Farmers, competitors anticipate Lucky's Farmers Market's arrival in Columbia

Thursday, April 25, 2013 | 5:43 p.m. CDT; updated 7:59 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 26, 2013

COLUMBIA — Lucky's Farmers Market, which is planning to move into the former Osco building by fall, is ready to jump into the market for natural and organic foods. The company plans to sell supplies from local growers and producers, hire residents and get employees involved with volunteering in the community.

There are two Lucky's Markets, one in Boulder and the other in Longmont, Colo. Columbia's store will be the first Lucky's Farmers Market; another is scheduled to open in Columbus, Ohio, in August.

Lucky's President Bo Sharon said the stores' prices are cheaper than other natural and organic markets, but that isn't how the company sees itself. It likes to focus more on quality than on price, he said.

"We like to sell good food at good prices," he said. "We're firm believers (that) we can bring this to the masses." 

Root Cellar co-owner Jake Davis said he isn't worried about competition from Lucky's.

"We don't anticipate losing our customers because we have a very tight, loyal customer base, and we've also built relationships with farmers and producers around the state," Davis said.

Davis said there are always questions about how saturated a market can become, but he thinks it's more important for local business folks to support local farmers as much as they can, and that now includes Lucky's. 

"We've been here a long time, and we don't anticipate any problems," Davis said. 

Sean Coder is a member of Americorps Vista who is working for Centro Latino, an organization that has been working to promote healthy eating in Columbia over the past couple of years. Coder said the location of the new grocery store will be helpful to central-Columbia residents because it will be within walking distance.

"It comes down to how they go about introducing themselves to the community, taking into account that it's near downtown and more lower-income neighborhoods," he said. 

Coder said a big part of promoting healthy eating is education.

"I think a lot of people think that fresh food is more expensive, harder to work with," he said. "Obviously it's not up to the grocery store to educate, but maybe they could do some work in the community to make it a friendly atmosphere for everyone."

Sharon said Lucky's works hard to get its employees out in the community and even pays some of its employees, according to how much time they work at the store, to volunteer with community groups.

He said Lucky's pays its workers above minimum wage and provides health care and insurance.

"We take care of the folks," he said. "We try to get them out in our community. Our culture is a bit progressive. The hope is to make a positive impact."

The door is open to anyone who seeks an application, he said, adding that "the whole team should be from Columbia."

Sharon said the portion of products that Lucky's sells from local growers and producers will fluctuate with the seasons. He said he's excited to see what local suppliers have to offer.

About 20 percent of the products sold at the Boulder market are from local providers, he said. The intent here will be to sell as many goods from Columbia and mid-Missouri as possible. 

Mark Mahnken, owner of Missouri Legacy Beef in Salisbury, said he wasn't aware of Lucky's imminent move to Columbia. "I'm gonna get down there, be at their front door," he said after being told the news.

Missouri Legacy Beef supplies both Clover's Natural Markets and the Columbia Hyvee stores with meat.

"We're happy to have more purveyors in retail of Missouri Legacy Beef, and we'd be happy to work with them," Mahnken said. "I believe that Columbia has one of the fastest growing markets for local all-natural products, and that speaks very highly of the citizens of Columbia and the farmers that are willing to work together to provide the citizens with good, healthy foods."  

Ken Muno, cheese-maker and owner of Goatsbeard Farm in Harrisburg, said he doesn't have any extra product to go around. Goatsbeard Farm already supplies several stores in Columbia and the Boone County area, and it is exploring deals with some stores in Kansas City.

Still, Muno said he will be waiting to hear from Lucky's in case there is a need that Goatsbeard can meet. 

Steven Sapp, owner of Strawberry Hill Farms and president of the Boone County Farmers Market, said he sells what he grows and wouldn't be interested in looking to supply the new store, either. He said he doesn't think the market's vendors are big enough to be interested.

"I think anybody would be open to it if they had a bigger supply. We have a pretty big following with the farmer's market, not really any extra left," he said. 

Sapp also noted that drought and other factors have made it hard for local farmers to grow anything. 

"I guess it depends on how open (Lucky's) is to seeing what the season provides, because a lot of local producers don't really know what they're going to have ahead of time," he said. "It's a week-to-week basis." 

Although the Lucky's company has tapped the federal EB-5 program to attract foreign investors, Sharon said no such investors will be involved in planning Columbia's store. The company is exploring those options for other potential sites, such as the store in Columbus. 

He would not comment about whether Lucky's or The Kroenke Group, which owns the former Osco building, will pay for the renovations. Construction is scheduled to start in the next few weeks.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Kevin Gamble April 26, 2013 | 1:50 p.m.

As a regular customer of all the different natural-foods stores currently in town, I hope they all find a good way to coexist and thrive. They're all great components to this community, and I'm glad to see them proliferate.

A lot of the initial reaction to this store's announcement was from those complaining that the healthy food they offer might be too expensive for those in the area. To that sentiment, I offer my ongoing amazement that the quality of food is so devalued in our culture. Skimp on other things - cut your cable TV or Netflix, give up smoking, don't buy that large TV or video game system or new iPhone or cool new pair of shoes, don't buy that expensive and gas-guzzling car - but don't skimp on the quality of what you eat.

It's the cheapest health insurance there is. The related health costs of cheap, industrial-ag food far outweigh the extra costs of individual organic foods - which are really not as high as people think - but it's easy to take the short view and just buy what's cheap. Changing your priorities in this area can change your life.

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