Foodarama is affectionately known in Houston as the go-to friendly neighborhood market, having served the community for more than 40 years. Although local customers who grew up shopping there with their parents or remember it opening for the first time might feel nostalgia for the grocery stores, Foodarama is changing with the times to better serve its customers.
“We are excited about the changes we are making and moving forward in 2015,” says Kim Alepa, CEO and daughter of founder Carrol Cox. “Our biggest challenges are not only the presence of competition, but also the always-changing trends of the grocery business. Customer shopping habits and patterns are very crucial to how we market our items.”
To stay ahead of its competition and industry trends, Foodarama continuously looks at different ideas from ad layouts to new designs and the appeal of its in-store and mailer ads. “We have a first-class staff working in all formats to ensure the success of each ad,” Alepa adds. “We have an outstanding IT department to oversee and maintain all of our company’s vital systems. We try to be as far advanced and user-friendly as possible.”
In-store displays are designed based on what products are featured in Foodarama’s weekly ads. If it is pasta, for example, an end cap will feature complementary items such as pasta sauce, Parmesan cheese and croutons for a salad. “Our buyers are very hands on,” Alepa notes. “They get great deals and work very well with our vendors.”
Foodarama recently renovated several of its stores’ produce departments to feature new tables, cases and wood-grain laminate floors, which Alepa says, gives it a farmer’s market feel. With its new look in produce, Foodarama is also sourcing more organic products. “Our customers are very happy with the updates we have made in the produce department,” she adds. “The wood floor separates the produce department from the rest of the store and gives it the feel of being in separate room, even though it’s an open concept floor plan.”
The remaining locations will have an updated produce department by the end of the year. Each store’s meat department also received a fresh look beginning last year when the company began adding service cases. The new meat counter gives the customers a more interactive experience and more importantly, additional meat and seafood options to choose from.
Foodarama is also in the process of replacing the current dairy cases with new, energy-efficient pantry-style cases. “We are listening to our customers to see what they want and are following their responses,” Alepa notes. “Customers tell us they are excited about the changes and that tells us we are moving in the right direction.”
A New Look
Foodarama has been rebranding over the past 18 months. “We’ve been working with DW Green Co., located in Tempe, Ariz.,” Alepa explains. “DW Green develops innovative advertising, marketing and brand positioning solutions. DW developed for us a new website, store signage, ad layouts, as well as updated our logo.”
The company completely redesigned all of its marketing materials, including shelf signage, shelf tags, ads, the website and online promotions, IT Director Mike Grimsley says. “We wanted to separate ourselves from the rest of the independents in the market,” he adds. “We didn’t want to alienate our current customer base, but we wanted a national feel while keeping our local brand appeal.”
Foodarama launched a new website last summer after researching what its customers wanted to view on the site. The site features fresh products, values, health and wellness and suggestions on how to create meals at home. Coupons and ads are available on the website.
The company is working with long-time partner Truno, a retail and grocery point-of-sale (POS) software, hardware and information technology systems provider, that completely overhauled its POS systems and cash register services. “Within the past two years, we have completely updated our point-of-sale, changed the majority of our front-end software and are working with Truno to develop a company loyalty system,” Grimsley says. “The loyalty system will offer different promotions to add more value for the customer.”
The transformation of the technology at Foodarama in the past six years has been amazingly successful, Grimsley notes. “When I started here six years ago there was not a technology plan in place,” he adds. “In that time, we have successfully replaced every bit of technology in the stores and corporate office, which has played a big role in how we purchase and merchandise our stores, and it will play a big role moving forward towards inventory management and marketing. Technology is something that will continue to play a large role in our organization.”
Later this year, Foodarama will implement a new inventory system that will provide data on its inventory, which items sell well and which ones do not. This software will help the company offer customers more of what they are looking for.
The success of Foodarama is attributed to Cox, whose experience in the grocery business began well before 1973 when he founded the company. Cox started in the grocery business in Arizona and gained experience as a district supervisor in both Arizona and Utah before he moved to Houston and opened his first location.
Today, Foodarama has been serving the Houston community for more than 40 years with 10 locations throughout the area. There are also seven locations in San Antonio, which go by the name La Fiesta. The grocery stores offer a wide variety of fresh produce, quality meats, bakery items and in-store booth services at a great value. “We strive for low prices and great customer service,” Alepa says.
The Cox family owns and operates the business, which Alepa says, has also contributed to its success. “Because it’s a family owned business, when we need to make a decision we can make it right then,” she explains. “Suppliers tell us it is refreshing to work for an independent grocer because they don’t have to wait weeks or months for an answer.”
In June, the Houston Chronicle named Foodarama one of its top-100 employers. Alepa believes it was named one of the best places to work because all of its 1,200 employees are treated like family. “In fact, many of our staff have numerous family members working throughout the corporation, so it really is a family culture here,” Alepa notes. “For the Cox family, we have three generations, which includes two of my children, my daughter is in advertising and my son is a store manager. My husband is a district supervisor. My cousin is the district supervisor of our San Antonio locations.”
Moving forward, Foodarama plans to add new store locations. “We look for locations that are not only good for us, but where we will be a good fit for that neighborhood,” Alepa says.