Mid-America Real Estate releases Chicago-area Urban Grocery Study

Grocery penetration increases 11% in Chicago areas identified as "food deserts"

CHICAGO — Two years after publishing its initial Urban Grocery Study, Mid-America Real Estate Corp.'s Urban Team has accumulated comprehensive and comparative data rendering new statistical findings and trends that may prove invaluable to grocers and other retailers planning to penetrate the urban Chicago marketplace. That data was made public Thursday, the company announced.

One such statistic maintains that while the number of grocery stores in Chicago and the adjacent suburbs increased by 8.8% over the two-year period, it was largely due to growth among the discount and “gourmet” categories, with a notable pull-back from full-service grocers. Also, the traditionally underserved “food deserts” of the city have experienced growth in grocery penetration by 11%, although such areas still are heavily underserved.

Pharmacy operators offering fresh food were not included in the report. Walgreens opened 10 "food desert oasis" locations in Chicago in 2010.


“Grocery is the backbone of retail across the country, but particularly relevant in urban Chicago where there are several well-documented underserved areas,” stated Mid-America SVP Dan Tausk in a press release. “Grocery drives other development, brings other ‘daily needs’ to a shopping center and defines trading patterns, so we felt it important to get a closer look at the supply and demand characteristics in each of the eight submarkets we identified," he said. "Now, having a two-year window of activity as a basis to study, we can draw some conclusions.”

Tausk reported that the data, which includes everything from store size to category to operator type, substantiates some correlations that already are known by industry professionals. However, there also were many new findings:

  • Increase in proposed grocery stores — there were 26 newly proposed grocers in 2011, up from 18 stores proposed in 2009 ("proposed" defined as announced leases or under construction). Furthermore, those newly proposed grocers represented more than 870,000 sq. ft. in 2011, almost 200,000 sq. ft. more than in 2009;
  • Average proposed grocer size decreased — the average urban grocer size in 2011 was 33,486 sq. ft., a decrease of nearly 5,000 sq. ft. from 2009, which is reflected in the national retail downsizing trend that took place during the recession, not exclusive to grocers;
  • Full-service grocers declined — the number of full-service grocers in Chicago has been on the decline since 2009, netting six less stores than were present in the 2009 study and losing 2.5% of the overall square footage;
  • The gourmet category increased — meanwhile, the gourmet category has experienced a significant amount of expansion since 2009, with a 73% increase in square footage as a result of nine new stores. Five proposed Mariano’s stores accounted for the major influence, with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s active as well;
  • Hot spot of gourmet — while Chicago's central city, home to some of the Windy City's wealthiest income pockets, lost three full-service grocers, it gained two gourmet grocers and three discount grocers. Notably, Chicago's central city is the only submarket possessing more gourmet grocers than full-service grocers;
  • Discounters experienced a huge amount of growth out of the recession with 19 additional stores and 28.2% growth in square footage. Increased market penetration by Save-A-Lot and Aldi, and the addition of two new smaller-format Walmart concepts accounted for the majority of this growth;
  • “Food deserts” show hope — despite being 2-of-the-3 largest zones, Chicago's southwest suburbs and the south/southeast area of the city have the second- and the third-fewest aggregate grocers. Conversely, west Chicago and the south/southeast area of the city rank at the bottom of penetration statistics with 1.32 sq. ft. per person and 1.57 sq. ft. per person respectively, while the study’s city average is 3.12 sq. ft. per person. Despite this continued poor showing in Chicago’s traditional food deserts, there were some positives in the 2011 findings. West Chicago has experienced an 18.7% increase in aggregate grocery square footage since 2009, largely due to a proposed 60,000-sq.-ft. Pete’s on Chicago's West Side. Other square footage growth was noted in the South Side, particularly the south/southwest area of the city and the southwest suburbs, at 11.2% and 15.8%, respectively, since 2009. Additionally, the south/southwest area of the city has led all submarkets with nine net-new additions since the 2009 study and 59 aggregate grocers; and
  • Grocer penetration — the west suburbs have the highest per capita and per household grocery market penetration with 5.38 sq. ft. per person and 15.01 sq. ft. per household. West Chicago has the lowest sq. ft. per person at 1.32; however, the south/southeast section of the city has the lowest sq. ft. per household at 4.25.

According to the report, Walmart has entered the 2011 study with seven stores, three 30,000- to 40,000-sq.-ft. “Market” stores and four 10,000- to 15,000-sq.-ft. “Express” stores. Walmart was included in this study because both its Market and Express concepts operate primarily as grocery stores with definable square footages in contrast to urban Targets, Super Targets or Walmart Supercenters.

Walgreens, however, was not mentioned in the report. Walgreens in July announced a commitment to convert or open at least 1,000 food oasis stores nationwide over the next five years. “With more than 45% of our stores located in areas that don’t have access to fresh food, Walgreens is uniquely positioned to bring more food options to Americans and also provide needed pharmacy, health and wellness services directly in those communities,” stated Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson at the time of the announcement.

Also in the report, Aldi, the German discount grocer, has been highly active since the 2009 study, opening six stores throughout the city while proposing three more for 2011. Roundy’s, the Milwaukee-based grocer, successfully unveiled its upscale grocery concept, “Mariano’s,” in Arlington Heights, Ill. Three-of-the-5 proposed locations in 2009 have been abandoned; however, Roundy’s has selected five more locations, bringing its total to seven proposed locations in the 2011 study.

Save-A-Lot has expanded in the past 24 months, proposing five stores for 2011, four of which are to be located in the south/southwest area of the city, with the remaining location slated for the south/southeast area of the city, clearly focusing expansion efforts squarely in Chicago’s food deserts. Jewel, a Supervalu banner, has been stagnant since the 2009 study, focusing on remodels. Its lone activity — closing its concept store, Urban Fresh, in West Lincoln Park. Dominick’s, a Safeway banner, stayed relatively stagnant, re-opening one store in West Rogers Park and closing one store in Lakeview due to a fire, with no immediate plan to rebuild it.

To download the grocery study and charts, click here.

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