Green Zebra Grocery marries the concepts of convenience and healthy grocery in debut store
Having worked for years in the grocery industry at New Seasons Market in Portland, Ore., which offers a mix of conventional and organic products, Shannon Hiller-Webb and her business partner Lisa Sedlar took their expertise and started a convenience store business focused on “healthy convenience,” but with features one would find at a grocer.
“We offer some standards you would find in a grocery store, but in a smaller format,” said Hiller-Webb. “With the concept of healthy convenience, we say there is only room for the good stuff. We have a meat and seafood counter, and a cheese department, which is unexpected at a c-store, and an organic produce section.”
Green Zebra Grocery opened Oct. 8, and the owners have two other stores planned for this year. The flagship store is 5,000 square feet and located in a Portland community known as Kenton.
The owners chose the unique name to reflect their concept and also relate to the area. “Green Zebra is a variety of tomatoes developed in Oregon and that resonated with us because it was small, flavorful and grew in the Northwest,” Hiller-Webb explained.
The design goal was to create a fresh and clean environment to engage people in the space, and allow them to get in and out quickly. KRS Retail Solutions worked with the owners on the interior design and navigation of the store, she said, explaining that they also wanted to reflect the feel of the community and neighborhood, and will do the same with their other stores.
“It’s a ‘throwback’ to classic neighborhood stores, but with the very distinct flavor of Green Zebra,” said Christopher Studach, creative director at KRS. “We also wanted to express the new brand character through the store design and customer experience.”
The zebra character is carried through the store using stripes, including colored zebra flags to let customers know what section of the store they are in and help them find the items they need. For example, the deli and salad bar sections feature green-striped flags, the cheese section has yellow stripes and the coffee and pastry bar has brown stripes.
“With zebra in the name and having it as a logo, KRS recommended carrying it through the store,” said Hiller-Webb. “They took two tones of a gloss and matte-finished tile and created a unique striped pattern that gives the element of striping throughout the walls.”
The floor is polished concrete, which allows customers to focus on the products, and there are wood elements throughout as a nod to its Portland location, known for its forests and trees. Also, when they removed the existing drop ceiling, they found six skylights and a vaulted ceiling with wood tresses. This was left exposed to bring in natural light.
“We mostly gutted the store,” explained Hiller-Webb. “It had been a restaurant, and we needed to take it back to the shell.”
THE EXTERIOR DESIGN
Outside, the Green Zebra sign is a proprietary logo and was created to let people know that shopping in the store is a unique experience. Meanwhile, the side of the building features two-toned gray zebra stripes. The initial plan was to write the word “zebra” on the side of the store, but the owners changed their minds after talking with the community and neighbors.
“We engaged with all the neighbors and the neighborhood associations many months before we even started working on the build-out because we wanted to hear what they wanted from the store,” she noted. “After talking to them, we decided to write Kenton on the side because they were all so proud [that] we opened our first store in their neighborhood, and have been huge supporters of us.”
Because it is truly a neighborhood store, many people will ride their bikes to Green Zebra rather than drive, so the store offers more bike parking spots than it does car parking. The store also features a variety of bike amenities, including a tire tube vending machine and a cargo bike and trailer available for loan to customers who need to transport groceries home.
“There is a covered area with heat lamps outside that can seat between 20 and 30 people, and we offer customers Wi-Fi so they can take their computers out and work here if they want,” Hiller-Webb added.
Additionally, to follow along with the healthy and environmentally conscious image, the seating area outside and all of the tables and benches are made from reused materials left over from the original building.
In the back of the store, customers find the meat and seafood department, and next to that, the cheese department. Wrapping around the store’s perimeter is the deli case and a grab-and-go, self-serve section that includes a hot food station, soup bar and salad bar.
All of the beef, chicken and deli meats are 100 percent grass-fed, and the chicken sold is Mary’s Chicken, which is not only humanely raised, but was voted by America’s Test Kitchen as the No. 1-tasting chicken in the country, said Hiller-Webb.
“These are things you don’t see in a typical c-store,” she explained. “In the morning, we offer fresh juices, a yogurt bar with Goji berries and chia seeds as toppings, and oatmeal and polenta. We don’t offer strictly natural products, but we are looking for ways we can bring health back into our customers’ day.”
All of the food is made in-house and for lunch and dinner, the store features a Hot Rock section, which Hiller-Webb said is the most popular section of the store. The selection changes every day, but eight options are offered daily. The menu includes such items as healthy macaroni and cheese with broccoli, lasagna, shepherd’s pie and Indian dishes.
“We worked with a chef to design the menu items and will rotate it seasonally,” she said. “We have a group of chefs in the kitchen who come from some of the best places in town.”
The store also features a coffee bar with a variety of pastry items, and a walk-up window.
THE INSIDE SELECTION
Carrying 13,000 SKUs, the layout of the center store features narrow aisles and taller shelves than often found in a convenience store. While they have been pleased with the height of the shelves, the owners plan to widen the aisles a bit in future stores.
There are many traditional c-store categories such as candy, beer and wine, but healthier varieties can be found on the shelves, too, and the owners chose not to carry lottery or cigarettes because they don’t fit into the model of healthy convenience.
“We have various snack items for people on the go and a small section of canned items and cereals, including Cheerios, granolas and a healthier version of a frosted flake,” Hiller-Webb said. “We also have a full aisle of beverage coolers and a good-size dairy section and coffee section.”
Beer and wine are selling very well, with the store dedicating half an aisle to beer and wine not chilled in a cooler, as well as cases; there’s also a 12-foot cooler of both.
“We have a large selection of alcohol, but ours is focused on local selections and microbrews, and all of our wine is under $20,” she noted. “We also have an on-tap program with growlers so customers can get beer they couldn’t get in a bottle, and we also have some kombuchas on tap and our version of a Slurpee.”
The biggest profit sections are the center of the store, with the beer and wine sales, and the Hot Rock section that is doing “exceedingly well,” according to Hiller-Webb.
The store has 51 employees, both part- and fulltime, and medical benefits are offered to everyone on staff. The next two stores are also planned for Portland, and with signed lease agreements, they are slated to be built this year.