Sunday, December 20, 2020

Publix Forever and Evergreen

Publix #1684
155 Bartram Market Drive, St. Johns, FL - Bartram Market

     Earlier this year, we got to tour an example of Publix's newest prototype design, called the 49M model, the name derived from its 49,000 square foot size. While we got to see the new design and layout, there was a critical component of the new prototype missing from that post - Publix's new interior decor! While most of the original 49M prototypes to open in late 2019 featured Publix's longtime decor package, our dear friend Classy Market 3.0 (officially called 'Sienna' by Publix), it wasn't until the beginning of 2020 that the new decor package, called Evergreen, really began to take off. Officially debuting in September 2019 at the opening of Publix #1666 in Palmetto, FL, the new Evergreen decor became a huge contrast to the colorful earth-toned color palate of Classy Market 3.0. Featuring a grayscale theme, Evergreen became one of Publix's boldest decor changes since the early 2000's. While I was able to preview Publix's new prototype early in its debut, it took me until only a few weeks ago before I got to see the new decor that was to compliment these prototype stores. With the Evergreen decor becoming more common as we entered the final months of 2020, I was finally able to find one to incorporate into my road trip plans - those plans taking us to the unincorporated community of St. Johns, FL, a southern suburb of Jacksonville.

     Until the turn of the millennium, St. Johns was a mostly rural area south of Jacksonville, with its greatest population located along SR 13 near the eastern bank of the St. John's River. As Florida's population boom of the 2000's came into full swing, developers began to drop new communities in the area, coveting St. Johns proximity to the Jacksonville metro area. Completion of the new SR 9B/Future I-795 freeway and extension of the St. John's Parkway has also made St. Johns a new retail hub for the area, the area's new retail core popping up just south of the junction of Interstate 95 and SR 9B. The big draw to the area is the new Pavilion at Durbin Park power center, its first phase anchored by Walmart, Home Depot, and a Cinemark theater. However, the much larger second phase to the Pavilion at Durbin Park, which has yet to begin construction, will include a Bass Pro Shop, three yet to be announced major anchors, and a Ferris wheel. There's lots of excitement happening over here when it comes to retail development, so whoever says big box retail development is dead, please send them over to Durbin Park!

     With all the development happening over here, especially at the power center across the street, of course Florida's favorite supermarket had to get a piece of the action! Publix announced the construction of their new St. Johns store in November 2018, the announcement coinciding with the opening of Phase 1 of The Pavilion at Durbin Park. Publix officially opened the new store on February 20, 2020, making this one of the first handful of Publix stores to debut with the new Evergreen decor. With a new Publix decor floating around out there, I really wanted to see it before the novelty of it wore off. I'm sure you guys want to see the interior of this place just as much as I do, so enough rambling - let's head inside!

     Stepping into the vestibule, Evergreen gives us a much bigger welcome to the store than the much more subtle welcome we got from the Classy Market 3.0 decor.

     Stepping through the front doors, the new deli island is the first thing you see, in all of its Evergreen glory. Even though this decor is called Evergreen (which is Publix's official name for this decor, per some construction documents that were sent to me a while back by nwretail), there's very little green to be found in it. The aisle markers and some small accent pictures are about the only green you'll find in the Evergreen decor, as the majority of the new color scheme is grayscale. I think the name "Evergreen" is more so a nod to Publix's longtime employee mantra of "Bleed Green" and Publix's ties to that color, rather than the name being a reference to the actual color scheme of the decor itself.

     In front of the deli island is the customer service desk, which makes its return to the front wall after being located in an island next to the check lanes throughout the Classy Market 3.0 days. In-store grocery pickup is also located in this area, in the nook next to the service desk.

     Another prominent feature you see when first entering the store is the salad and hot foods bar. Publix has been doing a lot of experimenting lately with Grab and Go foods and making those more convenient to shoppers who are in a hurry. Placing the salad/hot foods bar like this by the front doors and check lanes achieves the convenience factor Publix is going for. I happened to visit this store right around lunch time on a weekday, and the food bar was quite popular. I had to circle back here a few times to get a shot of it without a bunch of people surrounding it!

     According to a sign posted just out of frame, the theme of the foods on the hot bar changes daily. Some of the themes included Asian food, barbecue, and seafood. The day I was here happened to be Italian day, and the selection sure did look quite good! I like the changing themes Publix does here - it gives customers more variety, and makes the selection more exciting than seeing the same foods here every day.

     From the food bars, here's a look back toward the deli island.

     As usual with these new deli islands, each side of it holds a different feature. The side we see here is the main deli counter, home to the cold cuts and deli salads. Facing the entryway is the Pub Sub counter, with the remaining sides being home to additional hot foods and a cooler for gourmet/specialty cheeses.

     Like I blogged about previously, 2020 marked Publix's 90th year in business. Unfortunately, the madness of 2020 put a damper on whatever grand plans Publix had to mark the occasion, although as we moved into the latter half of the year, a few small references to the occasion began to appear. One of the few things Publix did to mark their 90th anniversary publicly was release a new special edition deli tea, a citrus blossom flavored one specifically. The citrus blossom (or more specifically, orange blossom) is Florida's state flower, and a major symbol throughout the state (even appearing on our license plates). This iced tea flavor was developed as a nod to Publix's Floridian roots, and sounds quite good actually. I'm sure it pairs well with a slice of Key lime pie!

     Moving away from the deli counter, we enter the produce department. Produce takes up the majority of the store's "grand aisle", with deli meats and juices lining the wall in those coolers to my right.

     Here we see the deli island from within the produce department.

     Floral is tucked into a small nook at the front of the produce department, backing up against the side of aisle 1.

     Moving away from the old curved produce signage of Classy Market 3.0, Evergreen uses these square-shaped, hanging wooden signs to designate the produce department. Evergreen gives off a much more sleek, modern style than Classy Market 3.0 did. Classy Market 3.0 had a more timeless feel to it, while Evergreen takes advantage of a lot of the current supermarket decor trends: graysacles, wood paneling/accenting, and large all caps fonts for department signage, to name a few.

     Some stock photos break up the blank space on the side wall, including one photo that was cut up in a way that reminds me of vertical window blinds.

     Some meat coolers round out the space on the right side wall, as we leave produce and head toward the meat department itself.

     The meat service counter is located in the back right corner of the store, with the seafood counter located immediately next to that.

     Spinning the camera around, here's a look across the back wall of the store. A close-up of the seafood counter is visible to my right, with the dairy department occupying those coolers along the back wall.

     Located between the meat and seafood counters was a cooler containing the Publix Apron's Meal Kits, an offering that gets its own section and wall signage in these new prototype stores.

     Stepping forward just a little bit more, here's a better look across the store's back wall and the beginning of the dairy department.

     The dairy signage itself. There's a sign identical to this further down the back wall as you get closer to the bakery.

     The dairy department stock photos provide another small pop of green into the otherwise gray-painted environment, another pop of green coming from the aisle markers as well.

     Let's take a short diversion down a few of the grocery aisles as we continue our tour of this Evergreen Publix...

     Like Publix's other larger prototypes, these new stores also feature a drop ceiling over the center grocery aisles, which gives this part of the store a completely different feel.

     Here's a quick overview of the front end before we jump back into the grocery aisles. Seen here quite clearly, Evergreen's aisle markers are essentially the same design as the ones from Classy Market 3.0, just with a new color scheme and font.

     As usual with Publix, everything is placed perfectly on the shelves. Very rarely do you ever see products on the shelves at Publix looking completely tossed around.

     Frozen foods are located in two aisles in the middle of the store, Publix's preferred placement for this department since the mid-2000's.

     Returning to the back of the store, here's a look at the half of the building we've covered so far. Now we'll jump into aisle 9 for a look at the other half of the frozen foods department:

     As usual, the drop ceiling breaks away over the frozen foods aisles, allowing for easier access to the pipes and tubing that run from the frozen foods coolers up into the ceiling.

     Entering aisle 10, we find pet foods, and the drop ceiling begins to make its return.

     Like the "PETS" sign seen here, the Evergreen decor uses a lot of other similar signage throughout the store, whether it be as category markers (like this) or for other decorative signage.

     Health and beauty products can be found in aisle 13, the the remainder of these products (and the pharmaceuticals) located in the few short aisles in front of the pharmacy counter.

     One of the oddities of these new prototypes stores is the placement of the bakery in the back left corner of the store, seemingly all by itself. Since the mid-1990's, Publix would group the bakery into its "grand aisle" with the deli and produce, putting all the service departments in one place. The reason for this oddity, per this article (which is a great read about these new prototype stores, by the way), is that Publix "ran out of space" when designing the ideal new layout. I guess that's as good of a reason as any! That same article also touches on Publix's search for new ways to make their stores more convenient for shoppers (a topic I touched on earlier), and the reasons for some of the other layout changes. It's a nice summary for a lot of what you've seen so far, with a lot of information provided by Brian West, Publix's media and communications manager. The article also seems to suggest that Wegmans may have been of inspiration for Publix to make some of these changes. Now that Wegmans and Publix overlap in parts of North Carolina and Virginia - both of which are similar chains with similar die-hard followings - Publix may have wanted to tweak their in-store experience to better compete with Wegmans.

     While the bakery is all on its own now, it still looks nice with its Evergreen refresh. I like the look of the backlit sign with the shiny textured panel behind it.

     Leaving the bakery, the store's last aisle is home to beer and wine. Again, a nice splash of green comes from the photos hanging above the coolers. Actually, the panel above the "Cold Beer" placard reads "I ♥ Green #Publix", a fun little way to slip in a Publix reference within the images!

     Here's a reverse view down the beer and wine aisle, looking back toward the bakery.

     Rounding the corner from the beer and wine aisle, the pharmacy will come into view:

     Even in these new prototype stores, the pharmacy retains its longtime home in the front left corner of the building.

     Now that we've seen the pharmacy, here are a few photos looking across the store's front end.

     The only decor piece Publix carried over to Evergreen from Classy Market 3.0 were the check lane lights. The lights are the same shape and design as the ones from Classy Market 3.0, with the same sayings on the back of them ("Now for the easy part", for example). The only minor difference with the lights (which I didn't notice until I was here in person) was the font for the number was changed to the font used on the Evergreen aisle markers. If you zoom in on the above image or the next one, and compare it to this image, you'll notice the subtle difference.

     Here's one more photo of the check lanes, but our tour isn't over yet. The most fun part of these new prototype Publix stores is the mezzanine dining area that looks over the store's front end, which we'll wrap up this tour with:

     Heading upstairs, here's an overview of the dining area itself. I like these new dining areas, with the high top tables, regular tables, and even a small lounge area with a couch and some comfy chairs. Until the debut of these prototypes, Publix's in-store dining areas were usually limited to a few tables in a small nook by the store's front end, so this is a huge upgrade! The new dining areas also include a sink and a microwave for frozen foods, which puts this setup more in line with what I've seen before at Whole Foods.

     Here's a reverse view of the dining area, looking back toward the stairs. A manager's office is located up here as well, behind that door with the window in it.

     However, the best part of the mezzanine setup is the view from above. To finish up the post, here are a few photos of the store as seen from the mezzanine, which is always a fun vantage point for looking at everything we just saw.

     I didn't get a very good shot of the self-checkouts from ground level, but this view from upstairs does a much better job!

     Here's one last downward view before we head outside and wrap things up...

     What we just saw here is what we have to look forward to from Publix in the coming years. I'm quite happy overall with the new store design and decor, although the new decor is quite the change from the colorful Classy Market 3.0 we've grown so fond of over the last decade. As of late 2020, Classy Market 3.0 stores are still trickling out, as so far, only stores using the new prototype design have been getting the Evergreen decor. Going into 2021 though, I'm expecting that to gradually change, as I've been told that Evergreen is supposed to start going chain wide by sometime in 2022 for all new stores and remodels (which makes sense, as Classy Market 3.0 had a similar prototype and transition period when that decor made its debut in the early 2010s). While the Evergreen decor looks nice in these new stores, I'm quite curious to see how this look will translate to a 1980's built Publix with a drop ceiling. Classy Market 3.0 looked really good in every store Publix put that in, so I'm curious to see if Evergreen will translate to the older stores just as well.

     That's about all I have to say for the next era of Publix. I'm sure you guys will probably want to share your own thoughts on the Publix of the future as well in the comments below, and I'm curious to know what you guys think! While Publix is embracing a new prototype and a new decor, something similar is happening with the competition as well. We all know Publix opens new stores left and right all the time, but now Winn-Dixie has begun opening some new stores for the first time in ages too. We're going to spend the entire month of January looking at two examples of Winn-Dixie's new stores, and taking in the company's newfound faith in revitalizing itself. I know a lot of you are interested in those new Winn-Dixie stores, so starting on January 10, 2021, we'll get to see the first of those here on AFB. Be sure to come back then for the first of those posts!

     So that's all I have to say for now, as we conclude the year 2020 on AFB. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone, and let's see what adventures 2021 will bring us! So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger