This hometown grocer is looking to best Amazon in Seattle

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This hometown grocer is looking to best Amazon in Seattle

By Mike Troy - 09/17/2019
PCC Community Markets will go head to head with Amazon's Whole Foods in West Seattle.

A David versus Goliath food retailing battle is taking shape in West Seattle between locally popular cooperative grocer PCC Community Markets and Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market. PCC is scheduled to open a 24,000-square-foot store at 2749 California Ave. S.W. on the site where it first opened a 12,000-square-foot store in 1989. Roughly a mile and a half away at 4755 Fauntleroy Way, Whole Foods plans to open a 45,000-square-foot store a week later on Oct. 9. PCC operates 12 stores in greater Seattle and Whole Foods will have nine locations when its new store opens.

The battle isn’t as lopsided as its seems even though Whole Foods is back by the resources of Seattle-based Amazon and PCC is a simple grocery co-op. That’s the situation on the surface, but PCC is a competitor to not be taken lightly judging from its popularity evidenced by annual sales of $288 million and plans for more stores. The retailer will open another store in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood later this year and has also identified Bellevue, Madison Valley and downtown Seattle as locations for future stores.

PCC says it has 70,000 members and that figure surely includes some Amazon employees who were loyal to the cooperative prior to Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods. PCC’s member base also likely includes employees of other notable retailers that call the Seattle area home, including Costco Wholesale, Nordstrom, REI and Starbucks. In fact, PCC CEO Cate Hardy is a nine-year Starbuck’s alum who joined PCC in January 2015 and said the soon-to-open store in west Seattle is near where she lives.

PCC Community Markets is a progressive retailer in a progressive city. In some ways it is the retailer Whole Foods used to be before it grew into a billion-dollar business and then sold out to Amazon, a company bedeviled by antitrust issues related to how it treats third-party sellers in its marketplace.

PCC’s popularity by the numbers
PCC may not be well known outside Seattle, but its highly productive stores generate average annual volumes that rival, and in some cases, exceed grocers’ sales that are publicly available. For example, the average PCC store does about $24 million in annual sales. To put that in perspective, the much larger and highly regarded Publix Super Markets chain, with annual sales of $36.1 billion and 1,211 stores at the end of 2018, had average sales per store of $29.8 million.

PCC lags Publix, but its stores are more productive than those of Weiss Markets or Sprouts Farmers Market. The 200 stores Weiss operated at the end of last year produced annual sales of $3.5 billion or $17.5 million per store. Sprouts Farmers Market during the comparable time saw its base of 313 stores produce annual sales of $5.2 billion, or $16.6 million per store, well below PCC’s average of $24 million.

What’s so special?
More than 95% of PCC’s produce selection is organic, meats are 100% organic, non-GMO or grass fed and seafood is sustainably sourced adhering to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch standards, according to the company. And whenever possible PCC sources products from local producers, farmers, ranchers and fishers.

The retailer is also heavy into prepared foods with ingredients from the stores used by PCC chefs to make salads, soups, entrées and side dishes fresh from scratch daily in each store’s on-site kitchen. Its newest store in West Seattle takes things to a new level with an expanded produce department, PCC’s largest bulk selection, an outdoor patio, café, taqueria, pizzeria and self-serve grain bowls.

Another thing that will make the newest location special is that it is the first grocery store in the world to pursue Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certification, which PCC says is the world’s most rigorous green building standard. The LBC, run by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), will come to life through unique store elements such as reclaimed, sustainably sourced and nontoxic building materials; energy efficient systems that lower climate impact; electric vehicle charging stations; and public art and design features with the sole intent of bringing beauty and a celebration of culture into the space, according to the company.

As part of the Beauty Petal Certification for LBC, the store will have a distinct design element. PCC enlisted Seattle artist Celeste Cooning to create “Cloud Wave” — a canopy art installation said to harken to water as the essential life force. Cut and assembled from reclaimed sail cloth, the fluid piece is suspended above shoppers and staff at the front of the store.

Founded in Seattle in 1953, PCC is already the nation’s largest community-owned food market — and getting larger even though it operates in Amazon’s hometown.

Mike Troy is editor in chief of Retail Leader, Store Brands' sister brand.