By Lorraine Blasor
For News is my Business
Despite the difficult economic climate enveloping Puerto Rico, Selectos Supermarkets is betting on growth: on Thursday it will inaugurate a new store in the heart of Santurce, the fifth one to open in a year when the grocery chain expects to reach $600 million in sales, on par with 2011.
The new store, based inside the upscale Ciudadela apartment complex near Stop 22, represents a $5.5 million investment by Entrepreneur Thomas Ward, the largest single investment in a Selectos store, according to Selectos spokesperson Mayreg Rodríguez.
The typical investment in a grocery store, she said, is around $3 million.
The chain this year also added stores in Manatí, Utuado, Aguada, and Moca with another four scheduled to open in 2013, she said. With a total of 36 stores (including Ciudadela), Selectos is the island’s second-largest grocery chain after Econo, which operates 58 stores, according to its company website.
Ward could not be reached for comment on Monday. He is the owner of another three Selectos stores: one at El Norte Shopping Center and the others in Villa Prades and in Adjuntas.
“Things are difficult but we are fighting the battle,” said Rodríguez.
Selectos President Edwin Ortíz, she said, expects the chain to reach aggregate sales of some $600 million in 2012, which is is just about the same volume the chain had last year when it had 31 stores.
Selectos kicked off in 1978 as a cooperative of independent grocery owners who decided there was strength in collaboration. Although individual owners may operate one or more stores, they all benefit from the advantages of sharing costs such as purchasing as a group and running a single distribution and central office at the Royal Industrial Park in Cataño.
The company’s main goal, according to Rodriguez, is to offer top quality food at the best price. In recent years, the chain has been increasing its local purchases but Rodríguez could not say what percentage it is of total purchases.
More than groceries
Enclosed within one of the glass towers at the Ciudadela apartment complex in the heart of Santurce (a mega development whose owners went into bankruptcy and has now reportedly been purchased by a stateside investment group), the new Selectos store may possibly be the most modern supermarket on the island with features likely to earn it the envy of its competitors (the nearest being Supermax De Diego).
These include a system of conveyor belts to ferry groceries from cashiers to a delivery area on the first floor and a dietician on the premises to offer advice to consumers who need to follow special diets due to specific health conditions. In coming weeks the supermarket will add signage to create a sort of health route along which consumers can select products appropriate to distinct diets such as gluten and lactose free.
“Puerto Rican buyers are much more aware about health,” Rodríguez said, also noting that products for sale will include organic foods.
Other store features: a wine cellar, a pharmacy, a flower section, a section devoted to fish and shellfish, and an area with prepared food stations and seating for up to 80 customers. There will even be a bar serving wines and artisan beers.
When asked to comment on this latest development in the local supermarket industry, Economist Jose Joaquín Villamil said supermarkets in Puerto Rico are going through a “complicated situation due to the competition of the ‘big boxes’ and new players in food sales, such as Walgreens.
“The opening of Selectos in Santurce is a bet that location plays a key factor in determining success and that Santurce, and concretely Ciudadela, will generate the necessary demand,” he said.
With a staff of 233 part-time and full-time employees, Selectos at Ciudadela will operate 24 hours a day.