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Is Safeway changing?

We have a small, somewhat run-down Safeway in Menlo Park (Sharon Hts) that surprised me when I found Bud's Eggnog, Liberte yogurt, Organic Valley and some non-Lucerne brands they previously didn't carry, which is why I shopped elsewhere. Is this only in this area of Draegers, WF, and updated Piazza, as well as a splash of new places, like Sprouts, Fresh Choice, Grocery Outlet,etc.? And Willows Market, which has an unbelievable beer selection!

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  1. I first shopped at Safeway almost sixty years ago, and they have changed quite a bit over the years. The trend is not unique to Safeway. All mainstream groceries have increased the selection of fresh produce, increased the selection of "organic" products, and increased the selection of "gourmet" items to keep up with consumer trends. If your Safeway is small and run-down, it is only because they have not yet got around to updating or eliminating it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      My local Nob Hill recently increased the selection of organic produce and moved it to a more prominent position.

      Over the years I've also noticed that chain supermarket stores are not as uniform as you might think. There's actually a fair amount of differences in what stores stock and how much attention they place on it depending on the neighborhood. I don't shop there anymore, but there was a big Albertson's (now a Lucky's) in Oakland's Fruitvale district that had a huge Latino products section (not just food, but Mexican brands of detergent, etc.) in the center front of the store.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I believe that Lucky store turned into a FoodMaxx. Same company.

        1. re: ML8000

          I'm trying to remember. Our Lucky became SaveMart. IIRC it got split into two companies. Seems like Al Gore was part of one.

    2. The Safeway in Kings Beach, CA, at Lake Tahoe has recently started carrying A LOT of Latino/Mexican food products. I was surprised and pleased. While this is a resort area and has lots of wealthy (not us, dammit!) second homeowners, this particular nabe has a lot of Latino folks living here. I'm guessing that Safeway is looking at the demographics of the particular area and adjusting inventory accordingly.

      1. The new Millbrae Safeway has a section of produce that has things such as celery roots, chanterelles, wood ears, round zucchinis, thai eggplants, lemongrass and generally things I had not seen at other Safeways. Of course, the cashiers often have no clue what those items are.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Kirk_T

          That reminds me that back in July I was lucky enough to be in the produce dept. when the area manager for produce was there. I wondered why they didn't carry locinato/dyno kale. He immediately told the dept manager to order it and it's been there ever since.

          I understand they have a new CEO so that may be what's driving some of this. BTW he was in that store on 4th of July (one of our HUGE tourist times) and he was calling in people from other parts of the region to work. Sounds pretty hands on.

          1. re: c oliver

            The reason the CEO was at the store and so hands on was that was the weekend of the grand opening after being closed for an entire year.

            1. re: poser

              Sorry I mis-wrote. The CEO was at the Safeway in Kings Beach on 4th of July.

        2. I live in Walnut Creek where there are 3 Safeways--all stocked differently. My husband likes a certain frozen breakfast sausage and only one stocks that brand. One store (Countrywood) has much better produce than the others. One is small and outdated but will soon be abandoned because a new HUGE Safeway will be built in a whole new development across the street. Whole Foods will move into the old.

          1 Reply
          1. re: walkoffdinner

            Totally agree with WalkOffDinner; I live in Montara and sometimes go to the Safeway in Pacifica (one of two) or Half Moon Bay.

            The Half Moon Bay store is tiny by comparison and has a very limited selection. The two in Pacifica are much larger and are stocked very differently.

          2. I'm new to Safeway, so I only know a little about those in our area. They closed a big, older Safeway in Portland. I don't know if they will put in another or not.

            Across the river in Vancouver, the big newer Safeway has better organic produce than the older one. I bought my turkey there and most of the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner. I'll be watching for newer and better products. I consider their lines to be narrow. Not the variety I would expect in a West Coast chain. Not even the variety I could get in St. Louis markets.

            1. Safeway categorizes their stores in different ways based on location, clientele and buying habits, like many other chains. Over the last 6 months, the company has updated and reconfigured stores across to the country to fit different guidelines. There are now stores labeled "premium", and those stores are more likely to carry the items that you describe, as corporate considers them to be "high-end", in an attempt for stronger competition with Whole Foods, etc. Other Safeway stores are more likely to feature more Hispanic, Asian or Kosher products, depending on location. I would know, my husband and I both work for Safeway :)

              4 Replies
                1. re: recklace99

                  What happened to the Bon Appetit concept? The Safeway on Jackson St. between Davis and Front used to be a Bon Appetit store owned by Safeway. It was great. Then the liquor store on the corner of Jackson and Davis closed and the supermarket expanded into that space. In the process, the store was rebranded a Safeway, the layout of the aisles was changed to conform to Safeway standards, and the selection of products changed. I didn't like the change at all. Even though the new version of the store was physically larger, I found the selection of products smaller and dumbed down. And I was told that shoplifting went up significantly after it was rebranded a Safeway.

                  1. re: nocharge

                    Never heard of it, but we work for a different division in another state.

                    I'm actually a pharmacist for the company, but my husband is a store director. I can guarantee you he had no idea what tahini was until after we were married :)

                    1. re: nocharge

                      oh I loved Bon Appetit, still had full service departments and all those charming blue-hair women from the towers upstairs buying sherry and cat food.

                      I noticed how Safeway tailors to the local (perceived) consumer when I browsed the aisles of the Upper Market Safeway and compared it to what I saw at the Outer Mission location.

                  2. agree with the emphasis to stress this with their employees. 9 of 10 safeway employees give me blank looks when i ask where the tahini is

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: vulber

                      I remember asking a Safeway checker where the tahini was, and he knew precisely, giving the aisle number and location within the aisle.

                      Why would you need to ask more than once anyway?

                      1. re: GH1618

                        We don't have Safeway here -- Vons is the same thing -- but stores will occasionally shift items around: potato chips used to be on Aisle 6; now they're on Aisle 3, and so on. Also, some will simply not stock items that are available in other branches of the same chain,

                        As for relatively obscure items, if they don't ring a bell with a clerk, I'd ask for something similar: "Where's the barbecue sauce, then?"

                        1. re: GH1618

                          they stock them in different places in different safeways, sometimes near peanut butter, sometimes near ethnic foods, sometimes somewhere totally random

                        2. re: vulber

                          I actually had this experience with tahini. The Safeway manager or assistant manager had NO idea.

                          In the PNW apparently tahini is shelved with peanut butter. This makes sense when you think about it, but I was used to finding it with the jarred olives.

                          1. re: sueatmo

                            I had that experience with currants. No one knew what they were, let alone where they were.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Were you looking for Zante (tiny) raisins or actual red/black currants? I have only ever seen fresh currants in season and don't know if there are dried currants. I was looking lately because currants are an ingredient in Ottlenghi's Spice Cookies, but really I am not certain if that means Zante raisins or not; since they are soaked in brandy it would be a dried fruit...

                            2. re: sueatmo

                              Oh yeah - and ALL three Safeways within a 20-minute distance no longer carry wild rice at all. There are some wild rice BLENDS, but - darn it! - I don't want them to blend it for me… I want plain wild rice!

                              1. re: CarrieWas218

                                If you reside near a Winco they carry wild rice in their bulk bins.

                                1. re: MamasCooking

                                  IMO Safeway should do bulk food. Winco's bulk offerings are amazing. The beans from the bulk section are fresher looking than the packaged.

                                  Winco sells many different rices. All reasonable in price.

                          2. Safeway introduced their repackaged Organics generic line a few years back (pretty decent products), and introduced a campaign highlighting local growers, with photos of the farmers.

                            I wouldn't say Safeway has changed though.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: sugartoof

                              I seems to me from what I've seen and then read here that they are recently responding to the demographics of some of their individual stores. I'd call that change.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I don't think that's true.

                                I think it's more that CH'ers are simply noticing the individuality. It's not much different than the individuality at a Starbucks (to which there is some).

                                A lot of it just has to do with when the store opened, who the manager is, if it has on site bakeries, etc. Safeway has always been responsive to customer requests. If you order a brisket or lamb for a holiday they will then try to continue stocking them around the same time of year, for example. These things aren't new. Safeway has gone back and forth with how much control managers have over orders.

                                Honoring requests may give the sense they're tailoring to local communities, but having shopped in Safeways across the city my entire life, simply for convenience sake, I can tell you there's no revolution happening. Safeway ust got really bad for a while, and they're trying to return to form, in order to compete.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Nope. Not in my situation. I suddenly starting noticing a major switch over to Mexican food products. When I commented on it to an employee, he said that corporate recognized the large Latino population in this area and wanted to carry the foods most popular with them. This is a very nice, big Safeway but has probably been in its current building for over 15 years.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I'm not at all familiar with what's going on in Tahoe, but there has been nothing notable that's changed in the city.

                                    20 years ago they started carrying different types of Asian rice and sauces in a noticeably enlarged section, 10 years ago, frozen lumpia. There are endless examples of this, it's not new for them. Every so often they make an effort.

                            2. A lot of it is feedback. Most businesses only get feedback from customers in the form of "what did they buy and how often?"

                              Most dept mgrs have some leeway about what they can order. Getting direct feedback in the form of a verbal request by a customer is something they prize; it actually doesn't happen very often.

                              Product choice is ever-changing because they're always looking for the right "mix" of items that will sell. One of our smaller Safeways used to carry hydroponic watercress, for example. I loved it, and the produce mgr loved it. He stuck it out for three years, but in the end he had to stop ordering it. Nobody would buy it (it wasn't cheap). A lot of younger shoppers had no idea what watercress even is.

                              One of my good friends worked five years for Safeway in their product sourcing (supply chain mgt). She just left them a couple of years ago. A while back I remarked to her that I found the produce at our local "big" Safeway far superior to any other market in Oakland, including Whole Foods and specialty markets. Sometimes they even beat the farmers markets, especially noticeable in melons, blueberries, grapes and cherries.

                              She replied that Safeway had been making large-scale changes to their vendor sourcing to get better quality produce into the stores, doing as much local and regional sourcing as possible. This also helped cut transport costs.

                              She toured one of the Central Valley distribution centers at the height of fresh corn season and said it was unbelievable how fast they got the local corn brought in and shipped out to stores. Dozens of 18-wheeler trucks could be loaded and on their way in a little over an hour's time.

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: jaiko

                                It's important to remember that supermarkets used to source most produce local just because that's how it was done.

                                1. re: jaiko

                                  How does one make a request for a product at a Safeway?
                                  You can go online at the Winco site to ask for a product. I did this, so far without success. I didn't see such a place on the Safeway site.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    You would have to rack a manager down. I don't think they have free reign though. In the butcher department, there's usually a bell if there isn't a dedicated counter, and they'll come out from the back, and take requests a few days ahead.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      When you check out at Safeway, the checker always asks you "Did you find everything you were looking for today?" Tell the checker about the product you'd like to see and it will be relayed to the store management.

                                      1. re: 512window

                                        My experience is that the procedure is merely PR. I've never had a grocery store add something I wanted, or bring back something I bought but they dropped, merely because I mentioned it. I've become accustomed to using four different supermarkets to get the particular things I want.

                                        1. re: GH1618

                                          I probably mentioned this upthread but because a regional produce manager was in the store, I mentioned wanting locinato kale and he turned to the store produce manager and told him to start carrying it. And they have and they do. Now, granted it probably has to be on the regional list as available. I was also that same day speaking to the regional meat guy and complained (mildly) that they only carry bone-in chicken breasts in the summer when people are grilling. Again, he turned to the meat guy and told him to start carrying. No,I don't think talking to a checker is going to accomplish anything. They're busy and likely have no influence but getting to the right person can make a difference.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            Between stores closing and stores changing their inventory, it seems like I end up shopping at 7 different stores these days - I feel your pain.

                                            However, at the same dilapidated Safeway in Sharon Heights, mentioned by the OP, I mentioned to the checker that I had looked in vain for lamb chops. Ever since, they always seem to have them stocked. I don't know if it would work for specific brands, but it seems like something to try. Hoping that someone of importance will happen to be there at the same time as you are strikes me as wishful thinking.

                                            1. re: 512window

                                              But phone calls and emails can take the place of a face to face.

                                            2. re: GH1618

                                              Dierbergs in St. Louis did add products that I requested from time to time. I used a an online request page.

                                              I didn't get everything I asked for but I did get a couple of things.

                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                "My experience is that the procedure is merely PR."

                                                I agree.

                                                Ordering meat or produce is not a problem however. The rest has to already be in the Safeway delivery system.

                                              2. re: 512window

                                                You know, I never think to say anything about the things I'd like to find. I'll try that. You never know.

                                                1. re: sueatmo

                                                  my motto regarding many things in life: "you don't ask? you don't get."

                                                  doesn't always work, but never hurts. like you'll never get a well-deserved and provable raise at work without a request. I've never been fired for that. just told 'no' or explained why it was only half of what I thought it should be. a store might decide there's just not enough demand to keep something perishable in regular stock.

                                                  going to a manager, not the cashier is more effective.

                                        2. We shop in another smaller Safeway, in the Midtown district of Palo Alto. I have recently noticed an expanded range of cheeses, produce, and dairy products (Clover Organic milk is a big plus for us).
                                          Simultaneously, the various Safeway store-brands have taken over much of the shelf (and freezer) space for pasta, frozen veggies, juice, canned tomatoes, cookies, etc.
                                          Finally, the produce section has been re-organized and the choices have expanded in the same space. More variety for both Asian and Latin American vegetables and fruits. We will keep going back -- it is a better store now.