Goodrich’s replacement: Fresh Thyme

By Andy Balaskovitz

A Phoenix-based grocer, and Whole Foods competitor, has signed a lease to replace Goodrich’s Shop-Rite in Trowbridge Plaza

A fledgling Phoenix, Ariz.-based grocer with ties to Meijer Inc. will replace Goodrich’s Shop-Rite in East Lansing’s Trowbridge Plaza, an official with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has confirmed.

As part of a $24 million mixed-use redevelopment of the plaza, local developer Kevin McGraw has teamed up with Fresh Thyme to replace Goodrich’s, a locally owned grocery store that’s been in the Lansing area for 76 years, 47 of which have been at the East Lansing location.

Fresh Thyme plans to open its first store in the suburban Chicago community of Mount Prospect this spring and plans to open 50 in 12 Midwestern states over the next seven years, according to its website.

It appears McGraw and Goodrich’s owners were unable to renegotiate a new lease. Goodrich’s has said it can’t afford the terms of McGraw’s offer, which would have tripled the grocer’s rent and required the store to close for six to eight months for renovations. Goodrich’s lease expires in August.

Colein Whicher, Fresh Thyme’s director of marketing, confirmed in an email Monday that the company has already signed a lease for the site at 940 Trowbridge Road.

Less than a month ago, Goodrich’s co-owner Steve Scheffel said “chances are pretty good” that Goodrich’s was going to close, but he did not say it would for sure.

A new agreement with a “cutting edge, organic market” first surfaced in mid-November. McGraw told City Pulse at the time that it “will be here long term and is very well financed.”

McGraw did not respond to calls for comment for this story.

McGraw’s plan calls for two new buildings for student housing, offices and retail and renovating the grocery space. Last month, McGraw took the plan off the East Lansing Planning Commission’s agenda to consider possible amendments. The commission will ultimately make a recommendation on the project to the East Lansing City Council.

Fresh Thyme is aligned with Grand Rapids-based Meijer, which has “an investment interest” in the enterprise, a Meijer spokesman confirmed Monday. He said Fresh Thyme “operates independently” of Meijer, but he could not provide specifics.

Fresh Thyme is considered a competitor to Whole Foods, which plans to open its first greater Lansing store in 2015 in Meridian Township. However, Fresh

Thyme is positioning itself as a smaller, less expensive version. It’s focusing on 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot store sizes, which fits the Goodrich’s footprint. It will also focus sales on perishable foods like organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables, rather than prepared foods.

“I think the people who are running it know what they are doing because they have experience. But yes, they don’t have a single store open yet,” said market analyst David Rogers, president of Illinois-based DSR Marketing Systems. “We don’t know how precisely it will do.

“Their thrust is to offer a value version of Whole Foods.”

Rogers said it’s a time of a “whole new series of value, natural organic grocers” throughout the country, led by Sprouts, which has over 150 stores in the west and southwest.

Fresh Thyme President and CEO Chris Sherrell formed the company in 2012. He was formerly the president and CEO of Sunflower Farmers Markets and has over 20 years of experience in the natural, organic grocery business in the western and southwest U.S. Sunflower merged with Sprouts under Sherrell’s leadership, according to the company’s website.

“We’ve combined the spirit of a weekend farmers market and the convenience of a neighborhood store with the nutritious offerings of a natural food marketplace,” Fresh Thyme’s website says., an online trade publication focused on organic and healthy lifestyle products, spoke with Sherrell in April.

“Size is the biggest differentiator from a Whole Foods Market, which is starting to open some smaller stores,” Sherrell said. “We’re not focusing on 40 percent food service. We’re looking at an everyday natural farmers market where 40 percent to 50 percent of our sales are going to be in perishable departments — produce, meat and some of the other health food service areas — but not really as high profile a food service area as Whole Foods may have.

“But really it’s the value, it’s the price image, the affordability.”