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Organic grocery planning new store for southside

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Once a month Jo Barr travels 45 minutes from her Greenwood home to the northside of Indianapolis for the chance to have more than one option of organic tomatoes and lettuce.

Most of the grocery stores in Johnson County sell organic items, but the selection is often slim, Barr said. She can buy only so many vegetables on her trips to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods because they’ll spoil before she can eat them.

Despite the grassroots efforts of local residents, there has been no luck in bringing a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods closer to the area. But a lack of similar options made the decision to open a store on the southside easier for one national company.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market will spend $3 million to open a 30,000-square-foot store this summer at 8750 U.S. 31 South in a building previously occupied by The Room Place, Chief Executive Officer Chris Sherrell said. The store will employ 125 to 150 people when it opens, with about 75 percent in full-time positions.

“There isn’t a traditional natural foods store in the area, so it absolutely becomes prime picking,” he said. “We don’t mind if there is a strong conventional grocery store nearby because we really go after middle America and don’t necessarily want to compete for that top 10 to 15 percent that may go to Whole Foods.”

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market promotes itself as being a full-service grocery store but with the selection of organic vegetables you would find at a farmers market. Produce accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the store’s sales, Sherrell said.

“When you walk in, the produce department is center stage,” Sherrell said. “We have a huge variety and huge abundance of produce. We’ll have 120 to 150, depending on the seasonality, of organic options of fresh produce along with the conventional side of the produce department.”

The Fresh Thyme Farmers Market chain is adding 60 stores in the Midwest during the next five years. Another store will open this summer at 4225 E. 82nd St. in Indianapolis, along with ones in Lafayette and Fort Wayne. A store will be built at 2342 W. 86th St. in Indianapolis in 2015.

The Chicago-based company also operates or plans to open stores in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The company is targeting the Midwest because it will best connect with the store’s goal of combining the traits of a traditional grocery store with a farmers market.

Greenwood resident Melinda Nevins is a vegetarian who prefers to buy organic items. She will visit the specialty stores on the north side of Indianapolis once every couple of weeks but doesn’t like going to them when they are busiest.

Besides the traffic, the stores are so crowded that they don’t have the selection they normally would, Nevins said.

Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods all have two stores in the Indianapolis area, all on the northside. A page on Facebook called “Bring Trader Joe’s to Greenwood” has more than 4,500 likes. Residents have tried to persuade the company to move into the area, many suggesting the old Marsh building near U.S. 31 and Smith Valley Road.

None of the 10 new stores Trader Joe’s plans to open this year is in the state, according to the company’s website. A spokesman for Whole Foods could not be reached for comment. Earth Fare is building a store in Fort Wayne, but no other new location in the state is planned, according to the company’s website.

Several factors are used when determining a new store location, such as median income, population and education level. The company ideally likes to move into areas where 20 to 40 percent of the population have a college degree, Sherrell said. Twenty-five percent of residents in Johnson County have a college degree, according to data from the Indiana Business Research Center.

“Educated people tend to look into healthier ways of living and are more aware of what is around them and will educate themselves on products,” Sherrell said.

While the store will provide numerous organic options, it also will carry some national brand name products, such as Cheerios, to attract people who want healthy foods but not necessarily all organic.

“In the grocery department, maybe 5 to 10 percent will be mainstream,” Sherrell said. “But we still look for those products to be on the natural side. We’re not going to be carrying Coke or Pepsi, but we want to have that familiar feel.”

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