Seafood City’s Ethnic Eats
Maura K. Ammenheuser / Shopping Centers Today
Seafood City encourages customers to feel they are back home in the Philippines, regardless where they may actually be at present — in California, in Nevada, even at the mall. The name is something of a misnomer, because the Pomona, Calif.–based supermarket chain sells more than just seafood. But its slogan, translated “With you, I’m at home,” is spot-on among the primarily Filipino customer base, given the chain’s specialization in primarily Filipino foods.
In July Seafood City opened at the 1.7 million-square-foot Westfield Southcenter, in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Wash. This, Seafood City’s first store inside a traditional enclosed mall, is novel for a chain that usually operates in open-air community centers. Then, too, the chain typically takes over spaces and fixtures vacated by older supermarkets, but this store is larger and newer than its usual venues, being a former Mervyns. In this regard, the store is hardly a novelty for landlord Westfield, though, which has an ongoing strategy of installing unexpected tenants, especially inside vacant department store space.
In any case, this confluence of a supermarket and a regional mall is notable because, although a mall as supermarket venue is hardly uncommon in other countries, it remains unorthodox in the U.S., observers say.
Seafood City displays its wares in traditional Filipino open-air style, and also cleans and fries fish for customers. Further it sells produce, meat and bakery and ready-to-eat items. “The food presentation is beautiful,” said Catharine Dickey, a Westfield spokeswoman.
Seafood City stores are generally flanked by smaller businesses that likewise cater to Filipinos. At Southcenter these establishments, mostly such eateries as Grill City, Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Valerio’s Tropical Bakeshop, are incorporated into a “street-food marketplace” occupying 8,500 square feet of the store’s 44,000 square feet.
Like the other Seafood City units, 17 in California and two in Nevada, this Southcenter store is intended to be a one-stop shopping destination catering to the Filipino-American lifestyle, says Catherine Quien, a Seafood City spokeswoman. Management “recognized the need of Filipinos here in the U.S. for a place where they can converge and meet [and] find products that are unique to their culture and traditions,” she said.
This unabashed ethnicity is likely to make, rather than limit, the chain’s fortunes, sources say. Indeed, Seafood City draws from a much larger geographic trade area than a typical supermarket, says Jeff Green, head of his own retail consulting firm in Phoenix. Most supermarkets pull shoppers from about a three-mile trade area, says Green, but with Seafood City, “the trade area is more based on the ethnicity of the consumer.” By his estimates, Seafood City typically serves a 10-mile trade area. And Dickey points out that people have been known to travel from as far as Vancouver, British Columbia, and Portland, Ore., both of which are about 150 miles away, to shop the Southcenter Seafood City.
Quien declined to divulge Seafood City’s financial details. Dickey, too, withheld figures, though she did say that Southcenter saw traffic increase 35 percent during the first weeks after Seafood City’s debut. Westfield has about a half dozen supermarkets in its U.S. portfolio now, including Gelson’s, at Westfield Century City (Calif.), and Giant Food, at Westfield Wheaton (Md.). And the company plans to continue adding grocers, Dickey says.
Beyond this new Seattle market, Seafood City targets for future expansion may include Chicago and the Northeast, wherever a sizable Filipino-American community may exist, though the company has announced no specific sites, nor did Quien describe any criteria for population density or income levels.
Green says he knows of no specifically Filipino-centric competitors to Seafood City, though he does draw comparisons to 99 Ranch Market, a 28-store supermarket chain that operates in California, Nevada, Texas and Washington.
But that chain is pan-Asian in its approach, rather than focusing on any one community, and this is something Seafood City too should consider doing, Green says. “If they broadened a little into Chinese, Vietnamese,” he said, “that would open a lot of markets for them.”
For leasing, contact R. Lacson, project development manager, at (909) 525-9500.