Sunday, August 7, 2016

Here's Safeway! (Safeway #3304 - Altamonte Springs, FL)

Albertsons #4304/Albertsons #3304/Safeway #3304
503 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs, FL - Palm Springs Center

     So here it is. The much anticipated tour of a Safeway Florida store is finally making it's way to AFB. Over the last few months we've seen bits and pieces of what these stores would look like thanks the the many AFB contributors who've sent in photos as the remodels progressed. Now will be the time to see what one of these new Safeway stores looks like complete. While I took these photos a week and a half before the Safeway conversion became official, the interior of the store was 97% finished. Only some minor things needed completing and overall what you will be seeing is the finished product. As for the exterior refresh, that was also just about complete at this time, minus the Safeway signage and one small patch of wall that still needed to be stuccoed. You can see a picture of what this store looks like complete with its new Safeway signage here.

     Although there's an Albertsons banner hanging from the front of the store, it was essentially a Safeway at this point. Other than the banner, only the POS system and the employee's uniforms were the only things left mentioning Albertsons. Everything else was Safeway.

     Looking across the front of the store. Here you can see some of the final touch up work that still needed to be completed on the exterior.

     A cart for every era. The cart closest to me said Safeway, the next one in said Albertsons, and the one beyond that said Albertsons Market. There seemed to be an even mix of Safeway and Albertsons handles, with a few sporadic Albertsons Market ones thrown in for good measure. Hopefully the handles on the non-Safeway carts have been replaced since my visit.

     Let's head inside though the right side entrance, which leads into the fresh departments. Another part of the Safeway remodel involved replacing the old swing doors with these sliding ones. Here's what the entrances used to look like, as viewed from the inside.

    So let's see what Safeway is all about!

     "Store Upgrades Loading", as says the TV screen on the left. These TVs hang above you as you first walk into the store, and are also scattered throughout the store. They kept flashing previews of the completed remodel and advertisements for various departments within the store when I was here.

     Let's begin with a tour of the fresh departments:

     The first fresh department is the new sushi counter, located right next to the main entrance. The sushi counter is located in the spot where Albertsons kept a small sandwich counter. The sandwich counter has since been moved further down, and we'll see it in just a moment. The sushi selection is provided by a company called Asiana Cuisine Enterprises, which is based out of California and specializes in offering fresh sushi for supermarkets to sell. What Asiana does is provide the sushi ingredients and also the sushi chefs to Safeway. The people that make the sushi are actually employees of Asiana, not Safeway, who come to the store every day to prepare fresh sushi and restock the sushi case. Other supermarkets outside of Safeway/Albertsons use this service as well. I included part of the menu/brochure that was next to the sushi case for everyone to look at if they were interested. Out of all the fresh departments, Sushi was the only one that was outsourced.

     Moving on from sushi into an entirely different category of food: pizza! Safeway's new pizzeria is located to the left of the sushi bar. The pizzeria offers pre-made and custom made pizzas. I know they offer cooked pizzas, but I'm not sure if they offer a take and bake option. Here at the pizza counter is also where you place sandwich orders, even though the sandwich station is further to the left. There was also a small breakfast menu as well, and a new Coke Freestyle machine.

     Looking across the Sandwich and Pizza stations. This area back when Albertsons was still here was home to a giant cheese case.

     Moving away from the sandwich and pizza stations and over the the fresh bars. This bar is the Signature Cafe Wing and Soup bar. In case you're wondering why all of the fresh departments are looking pretty barren, I was in here at 6:30 in the morning before the first batches of fresh foods had been prepared for the day.

     The Signature Cafe Salad Bar, looking back toward the Sandwich station and the rotisserie chicken case. One thing Safeway does have going for them is that all of their fresh bars are $1 per pound cheaper than the ones Publix offers. The current selection of fresh and prepared foods here is about on par as to what the highest end Publix prototype store or Transformational Winn-Dixie offers.

     And finally, the olive bar. I tried to make sure I got a picture of all the new fresh food bars here, so this should be the last one.

     Looking back at all of the fresh food stations/bars. The black case behind the "Simply 7" display offered some chilled, pre-made meals to go. For a contrast, here's a similar picture to this from when the remodel was in its very early stages.

     Looking across the front of the store from fresh foods toward the floral department. You can also see the new Starbucks in this picture.

    Close-up of the floral department.

     Originally, I thought the Starbucks was going to be in the front right corner of the store. However, that area ended up becoming home to a relocated pharmacy, and the Starbucks was installed along the front of the store. I believe the Customer Service desk used to extend down into where the Starbucks and sitting area are now. 

     Now let's move back over to the right side of the store to have a look at the deli...

     The fried chicken is kept in that case to the right, with the deli cases extending to the left of that. The deli had yet to open for the day when I was here, so the deli cases were empty. There was an employee off to my left who was cleaning the cases before restocking them for the day

     Below the deli cases the new wooden floors come to an abrupt stop, revealing the original tile from Albertsons underneath. This was the only non-stocking/merchandise reset work left inside the store from what I could tell. Hopefully they didn't leave this area looking like this, and that they put some kind of covering was placed here. Here's a picture showing what the original tile under the wood (or "wood-like") flooring looked like.

    Moving along from the deli to the bakery...

     Thankfully, Safeway seems to be keeping all of the same baked goods and recipes from Albertsons. As I've said before, I've always like Albertsons bakery department, so it's nice to know that this will still be the same.

     Back in the very beginning after the new decor was first revealed, I was hesitant about how it was going to look in these stores. After seeing it in person, I think it looks quite nice. This new interior has really bought some new life to these stores, which had begun to feel dated after Albertsons neglected all three of the remaining stores for nearly 15 years.

     Moving on to the produce department, which is located in the center right portion of the store in front of the bakery. Produce was originally all the way in the back right corner of the store, and was moved up a little to make way for a new beer and wine department. I believe one or two grocery aisles were also removed in order to relocate the produce department to its new location. Here's what the produce department looked like prior to the remodel.

     A new produce prep area was added to the left of the bakery to provide space for preparing fresh cut fruit bowls.

     Looking back at the produce department and the other departments we just covered. I'd also like to point out the new Safeway style produce crate displays that have been added, replacing these old displays from Albertsons.

     Moving into the back right corner and into the new Wine and Beer department. Wine and Beer was originally located over on the left side of the store near the pharmacy, with the wine located next to the analgesics as we saw in this memorable photo from the original Altamonte Springs Albertsons post in December 2015. Now that the wine is over here, how will I ever find the analgesics? I guess I'll just have to settle for the wine instead...

     Looking up one of the wine aisles. The wine bottles are now stored on these new shelves that are supposed to make this area feel more like a wine cellar.

     Next up we'll head off into the grocery aisles. In case anybody was interested or if this helps you to picture the store better, I've included this store directory I found lying next to one of the registers.

     The meat and seafood counter, located just to the left of the new Wine and Beer department. While Safeway seems to have kept the bakery the same, meat and seafood is the most important department for Safeway to not really change much. Albertsons was fairly well known in Florida for offering a decent meat and seafood selection at decent prices, as I've mentioned before. I'd say it's safe to argue that this department was probably the biggest draw into most Albertsons stores in Florida. The remodeled department looks very nice and presentable, but I really can't speak for much else as I didn't buy any meat when I was here.

     Moving into the grocery aisles in front of the meat and seafood counter for a look at the Organic and Natural Food Department. (If you look closely at the Organics and Natural sign, it's actually shaped like a leaf). If I remember correctly, there were around four half-aisles of organic foods and dedicated frozen and refrigerated cases for these items. Overall, not too shabby of a selection. I think this selection is close to what an average (non high-end prototype) Publix offers as far as organics go. It's definitely a much better selection of organics than Winn-Dixie has. If you blink, you'll miss Winn-Dixie's organic department.

     One of the natural and organic product aisles.

     Moving away from organics and into the regular grocery aisles.

     All of the generic brand items in this store were either Safeway or Signature brands. There was not a trace of Essential Everyday to be seen. I'm sure the name switch got Albertsons out of having SuperValu send any more products to the three Florida stores as their contract with them begins to wind down.

     A view of the Starbucks and floral department from one of the grocery aisles.

     There were a bunch of employees throughout the grocery aisles working on resetting and retagging merchandise as the switch began to near. The empty spaces you might see throughout the grocery aisles were due to all of the resetting going on. Also, with all of the employees floating around in the aisles, getting people free shots like this weren't easy!

    Looking across the front end toward the pharmacy.

     Now let's swing down into the frozen foods department.

     Instead of overhead, hanging category signs in the frozen food department, Safeway uses these decals that run the length of the cooler doors to identify what products are in them. It's different.

     Huh? Turkey Hill brand! As you can tell, I wasn't expecting to see this here. Never have I seen this brand in Florida before. In case you don't know, Turkey Hill is a regional brand of ice cream, bottled teas and lemonades based out of Columbia, PA near Lancaster (and is somehow related to the convenience store chain that Kroger now owns, although the food production company and convenience stores are independent of each other I believe). Their products are very popular in the Northeast and Midwest, and I didn't think they reached this far south. This is definitely one way Safeway is trying to appeal to the many Northeasterners and Midwesterners that now live in Florida. I know Albertsons never carried Turkey Hill products before. The fact that the three Florida Albertsons stores are supplied from a distribution center in Maryland probably helps with the increase in Northern regional brands here as well.

     Moving along now from Frozen Foods to the meat cases in the back of the store.

     The back aisle, looking into the back left corner.

     This is the center aisle in the left half of the store, as seen from the edge of Frozen Foods. The right side of the store on the other side of Frozen Foods does not have the center aisle. Here you can also see the new aisle signs featuring the local street names, such as Beverly Avenue, Gateway Drive, Central Parkway, Franklin Avenue, etc. Some of the streets featured are major roads in the city, and some are just side streets. Either way, I still like the street name idea for the aisles, as it spreads the local flare throughout the store.

     Looking across the front of the store. Where I took this picture was right in the middle of a giant clearance department, where items that Albertsons carried that Safeway was not going to carry were marked down.

     Not only was there clearance merchandise on the shelf in front of me, but off to the right and out of frame was another shelf like this of clearance merchandise, plus a few random carts of stuff.

     All throughout the store there were employees working on retagging, resetting, and stocking items. There seemed to be at least one employee per aisle doing some combination of those tasks. There were two employees in this aisle alone.

     One of the more general merchandise focused aisles, a good chunk of which was empty from the store reset.

     Going down Bunnell Road (aka Aisle 13), the last aisle in the store. The Personal Care wall was the temporary home to paper products. Previously, this space was home to the beer coolers.

     The dairy department is located in the back left corner of the store, and it also takes up the second half of aisle 13, which you can see in the photo below:

     Looking at some of the grocery aisles from the back left corner.

     Looking back toward the new beer and wine department on the other side of the store. The meat cases lie behind those 5 gallon water bottles.

     The center aisle, looking back toward frozen foods.

     Back up front once again for a look at the pharmacy. The pharmacy box was relocated from the center middle of the left side wall into the front left corner of the store. The space where the pharmacy is now was home to the old video department, a space that no longer served much of a use after the video departments were removed from these stores.

     Like in many newer stores (at least around here), the medications, vitamins, and other pharmaceuticals were moved into a small area in front of the pharmacy, with aisles that run perpendicular to the rest of the store. I believe this is supposed to create a "store within a store" effect. There were three pharmacy aisles in total, aisles A, B, and one without a sign that should have been aisle C.

     Now that the pharmacy has been covered, we can begin to wind down this tour of the new Altamonte Springs Safeway by walking along the front wall toward the exit. The first place up here is the new Starbucks, which we already saw earlier.

     As a part of the remodel, these four express registers were added. This store didn't have self-checkouts prior to the remodel, so these aren't meant to substitute for taking those out like what has been seen in some recent A&P to Acme remodels. Albertsons put self checkouts in most of their Florida stores in the mid-2000's, however they were removed shortly after. (From what I heard it was because they led to an increased amount of shoplifting). I like the new cylindrical register lights as well. It's different.

     Another new addition from these remodels was the small sitting area in the front of the store. As a part of the Brown Lifestyle interior's local flare theme, each sitting area/cafe is named after something of local significance. The Largo store has The Citrus City Cafe, a reference to the City of Largo's old nickname. Altamonte Springs has The Roost, which is a reference to Altamonte Spring's most famous attraction, Cranes Roost Park (which is located behind the Altamonte Mall, the Safeway plaza's next door neighbor), and Oakland Park has The Floranada Cafe (a reference to the city's original short-lived name from the 1920's). Other than the names, the wall graphics and the furniture in the sitting area are the same at all of the stores.

     To the right of The Roost is the customer service desk.

     One final look across the front end.

     So that's essentially what Safeway Florida is all about. Let's head back outside for a few more photos before I give my final verdict on this:

     Looking over toward the liquor store. In this post, AFB contributor Jay gives us a look at the signage for the Liquor store as it was being installed.

     One of the many new Safeway cart returns out in the parking lot.

     Before finishing this post, here's a quick look at the Albertsons circular I picked up during my visit. This is the second to last Albertsons ad for Florida. Since it was still two weeks out, there wasn't any mention of the pending switch to Safeway happening in it, however...

     One page of the circular had these graphics on it, which were designed in a similar fashion to the Brown Lifestyle interior of the store.

     Overall, I have to say I like the new Safeway stores. The new decor looks very nice, and it gives these stores the jump into the 21st century that they desperately needed. Would I shop here regularly? Yes (and not just because of my slight bias). The pricing in the fresh departments was pretty good, the store was clean, and the selection of products was decent. I didn't do a full blown comparison shop for the people out there concerned about Safeway increasing prices, but the few things I looked at didn't seem too bad. I only noticed one small price increase on a bottle of flavored water that I bought, which hopefully was not a sign of something else going on throughout the store. However, other than that, most of the recent reviews of these new Safeway stores have been positive, and many people are excited to see what Safeway is all about. I think these stores will be successful. As long as Safeway doesn't do something extremely stupid (like increase prices or let these stores deteriorate quickly), I think they'll be around for a while, with a potential to add more stores as time goes on. I think most of us are hoping this is the seed to bring more Safeways to Florida. While Publix is a tough chain to compete with, I really respect the fact that Albertsons/Safeway did this instead of completely giving up all hope on Florida like all those other chains have over the years. Will Safeway ever grow large enough to intimidate Publix? Probably not (Walmart and Kroger can't even intimidate Publix!). Could Safeway grow and sustain a respectable Florida presence? I think they very well could. Time will tell though.

     Before I finish this post, I have one last little thing to share. Contributor Thomas E. Sent in this picture of the Altamonte Mall road sign, taken sometime in the 70's it looks like:

     And since the mall and the Albertsons were next door neighbors, part of the Albertsons got caught in the background of this picture of the mall's sign. In the background you can see what this new Safeway looked like back in it's early days, when it was a somewhat new Albertsons.

     So that's all I have for that. What do you guys think of Safeway Florida after seeing this (or any of these stores in person)?

So until the next time,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger


  1. I think Safeway Florida is pretty cool! Like you said, I can respect that they did this experiment instead of just closing the stores outright, and hopefully it leads to an expansion of the concept. The décor is really neat, and the expanded fresh offerings should help them compete with Publix. My only complaint is that the floor looks a little bland outside of the faux wood... but the local flair makes up for that ;)

    Funny that you mention that new pharmacy/health and beauty area design: that's the exact same as in my old local Kroger that will be demolished next month, right down to the three aisles lettered A, B, and C! :P

    1. I had some doubts about the new interior at first, but seeing it in person really changed my outlook on it. I I like it and it looks really good, even in a 42 year old building. I really respect stores that will fight it out to the end like this and try something new to stay alive, and not just give up at the sight of danger (unlike a certain retailer whose name begins with a 'K' - but that's a speech for another day). Other than at their newest stores (built within the last 5-6 years), Publix's prepared foods departments are usually limited to a sandwich bar, some sushi in the Seafood department, and some prepackaged meals to go. They were actually somewhat behind in that respect, and what the new Safeways offer in prepared foods is comparable to the highest end Publix prototype used now. There are too many other things that this decor has going for it, that I can look over a lackluster flooring pattern.

      Interesting! I guess this is a pretty popular pharmacy design then.

  2. The only thing I'm concerned about is besides the dubious profitability/maintenance issues is how the store can really compete with Publix. Bringing in new brands is cool, but the whole thing kind of reminds me of the Jewel-Osco Florida experiment--big stores, unusual brands, and competitive prices but for some reason or another just couldn't compete and had to be written off.

    Without causing the rest of the chain to suffer, something needs to be done to support this fragile "division", like a third-party supplier (remember, the Albertsons Florida stores didn't get its own DC until the 1990s) and/or a serious plan to expand. Otherwise it was just a waste of time and money.

    1. I think most of the unusual brands are just because this store is supplied from Maryland and not Florida. If they were to switch to a Florida based third party supplier (like GFS), brands like Turkey Hill and other typically northern brands would go away. The one thing Safeway has going for it that Jewel-Osco didn't is the current lack of competition. Jewel-Osco was going against Publix, a stronger Winn-Dixie, Kash n' Karry, Albertsons, Food Lion, and U-Save. Safeway just has to prove themselves as a comparable to Publix, and an upgrade from Walmart.

      Albertsons/Safeway is probably going to use the next few months to look at sales and justify a next move. If some new stores or some kind of supply agreement aren't made by this time next year, I'm going to start believing this experiment may not be working. I'm still under the impression Safeway wants to open more stores as their next move for Florida. If they could get their Florida presence up to the 10-20 store range, it would better justify the deliveries from Maryland.

    2. Even if everyone has left town except Walmart and a weaker Winn-Dixie, Publix is a huge threat and can crush competition just much as any market dominating force (H-E-B, King Soopers).

      - I've heard complaints about the ceiling, and from the appearance, it does look old and makes the store looks worse than it probably is. Is it really that bad and off-putting? (This was often a complaint in many a repainted Kmarts in the early 2010s)
      - The sushi outsourcing is normal, and every grocery store (except H-E-B interestingly) is outsourced. Publix sushi is done by a company called AFC Franchising, which ironically does Safeway stores and former Safeway owned stores like in Houston and Dallas.
      - As for expanding, Albertsons may get its wish--remember the new Winn-Dixie remodels they promised? Yeah, well, they're only doing their second, and instead they've wasted time with a new Hispanic-focused Winn-Dixie in Miami (the lone Yelp reviewer explains it well) and Harvey's (including one in Charlotte). SEG may want to pack it in soon, and they may be willing to sell sites at the right price!
      - It looks like due to the DC switch (away from Ponca City), the GM has dramatically shrunken. However, that may be acceptable if the food selection is better. Is it? Despite the dazzling new perishable departments, is the selection improved?
      - The northern brands are a bit of a disappointment because it means that there's no locality afforded for local Florida items. Was there anything of the sort?

    3. - I've commented on the ceilings in some of the posts about the remodels as they were progressing. Stained tiles jumped out at me more in the photos of the Largo store, and if they were that bad, it would have stuck in my mind when I was at the Altamonte store. Between my visit to Altamonte and the photos of the Largo store, neither of those stores had ceilings that were Kmart bad. Kmart's ceiling tiles are horrifically stained, in some cases with plastic kiddie pools underneath catching water from the leaks. The ceiling tiles just looked old and tired in the worst spots, but it wasn't anything horrific. I agree they should have replaced the tiles or sprayed them with white paint though, especially after spending all of that money on the rest of the store.
      - I saw W-D made the announcement about the store they were remodeling in Tampa. There is absolutely no possible way they can remodel 50 stores that elaborately. Back in 2011/2012, W-D (and their high hopes) said that every store in the chain was to get the Transformational remodel - but after 15 or so remodels like that, that concept was killed off. Most of the remodeling they'll probably be doing will be converting more underperforming stores to the new Harvey's discount format (not that doing so is a great idea to save an underperforming store, but they seem to think it is). W-D and SEG as a whole will be lucky if they can do ten of these elaborate remodels before they give up on it like the other three that have come and gone since the bankruptcy.
      - When I was last here, they were still in the middle of the reset. However, it looked like they were converting some space formerly devoted to GM to food shelving. Organics saw a large increase in floor space, but since two aisles were completely removed to expand the fresh foods area, and when added together organics equaled another two aisles, I think the standard grocery selection stayed pretty much the same in the end.
      - I really wasn't paying too much attention in the grocery aisles to see if any local brands were mixed in (or other regional Northern brands other than the ones that have since become common around here, like Tastykake). The only reason the Turkey Hill ice cream jumped out at me was because there was an entire endcap at the front of Frozen Foods devoted to it.

  3. I've seen Turkey Hill at my Fry's/Kroger stores in Arizona. Most definitely they have moved to a national distribution pattern if they're not just going south but south and west.

    Given my impression of Albertsons (hint: it's not good), I'm surprised that they've kept two banners out here as long as they have and that they're not converting the remaining stores to Safeway (Albertsons had a penchant for store closings in the 2000s, leaving them with fewer Arizona units). Grocery Palace was nice for a couple years, but... I'm also not a fan of the common Safeway store layout; on one recent Safeway trip I found myself criss-crossing the store a lot.

    1. Kroger carries Turkey Hill at all of their stores nationwide since they have ownership in that brand, and is distributed through their network out to places as far away as Arizona and California. Outside of Kroger's network, it's difficult to find Turkey Hill outside of the Northeast.

      I know a few Albertsons stores in Washington state converted over to Safeway before the Florida ones did, so this is an option they are willing to go through with (I've never heard of Safeways switching to Albertsons yet). From what you're saying, Safeway is definitely the stronger brand in Arizona, and I wouldn't rule out a switch if they feel that's the best option for them out there.

  4. I loved Albertsons but Safeway is a win for me too. The pizza is awesome and I get better deals that I ever do at Publix. I hope this works for them and they open more stores.