The founder of Lucky's Market in north Boulder plans to expand his homegrown grocery concept across the Midwest.
Lucky's founder Bo Sharon has partnered with industry veterans -- including former executives of Wild Oats and Sunflower Farmers Markets -- to launch Lucky's Farmers Market, a chain of full-service grocery stores that offer a mix of mainstream, natural, organic and locally grown foods.
Lucky's Farmers Market officials quietly launched a website touting their intentions to open stores in the "Heartland of America," including in Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
Lucky's Farmers Market filed business registration documents in Montana last month and in Ohio this past Monday, according to state business records. The entities, which include a Lucky's Farmers Market of Columbus LLC and Lucky's Farmers Market of Bozeman LLC, are registered to a Boulder address.
The first Lucky's Farmers Market could open by the end of the year near Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, with a second location following in early 2014 in Bozeman, Mont., Sharon confirmed Thursday.
"The hope is to once again build a community market based off the needs of the consumer," he said.
Lucky's Farmers Market is targeting college towns, with demographics similar to Boulder. An initial goal stated by the chain on its website is to open six markets in 30 months.
"The hope is we got to open one and I guess we'll open two and keep our fingers crossed," Sharon said. "The intent is that there is a marketplace for a very community-driven concept that does cross-over and sells a heck of a lot of local and organic (products), but understands why you still need to use Drano."
In 2011, the natural and organic foods industry returned to double-digit growth, with sales increasing 10 percent to $91 billion, according to the Natural Foods Merchandiser, a Boulder-based industry trade publication.
The Midwest region is the "next frontier" for natural and organic, said Carlotta Mast, editor-in-chief of Natural Foods Merchandiser and NewHope360.com.
"It makes a lot of sense to me because there has been such a concentration of natural foods stores on both coasts of this country and in markets such as Colorado and the Front Range," she said.
While the Midwest's natural foods industry is growing increasingly competitive -- with new stores from Whole Foods, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and Trader Joe's -- Lucky's Farmers Market could find a niche in its dedication to locally sourced products, Mast said.
"The local foods movement, in many ways, is really what is driving the natural foods movement," she said.
Profitable since Year 1
Lucky's Farmers Market is backing its initial expansion through financing obtained under the EB-5 program, which allows foreign investors to fund projects in specific regional areas of the United States.
Jason Brown, who has worked with Columbia Sportswear and Organic To Go, is leading the grocer's efforts to obtain EB-5 financing.
Throughout a video posted on the Lucky's Farmers Market website, officials such as Brown and Sharon refer to the Lucky's Market store, at 3960 Broadway in north Boulder, as the "prototype" location for the planned chain.
Since opening Lucky's Market 10 years ago, Sharon subsequently added a neighboring café and most recently opened a neighboring a bakery and creamery.
Late last year, Sharon announced plans to open a Lucky's Market in Longmont. At 26,000 square feet, the new location is twice the size of the original Lucky's in Boulder and will include a café, bakery and full-service liquor store.
"Since Year 1, we've been profitable; we've been consistently profitable every single year past that," Sharon said in the Lucky's Farmers Market video. "We continue to grow and offer more than 60 full-time jobs in our store here, our prototype.
"Lucky's Farmers Market will be twice the size of our prototype here, which offers even more jobs."
'100 years of experience'
Lucky's Market Boulder and Lucky's Market Longmont will continue to operate under the ownership of Bo Sharon and his wife, Trish. The team at Lucky's Farmers Market, which includes Sharon in the role of president, has more than "100 years of experience," officials touted in the video.
In addition to Brown and Sharon, the executives include Wild Oats veteran Tim Overlie, who will serve as director of operations and purchasing, and Patrick Gilliland, who will head the chain as chief executive officer.
Gilliland co-founded Sunflower Farmers Markets with his brother, Mike Gilliland, and Wild Oats founders Randy Clapp and Libby Cook.
Mike Gilliland resigned as CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market in 2011 after being arrested in Phoenix on allegations he attempted to solicit an underage prostitute. He was sentenced this week to 30 days in jail and one-year probation.
Mike Gilliland is not involved in Lucky's Farmers Market, Sharon said.
Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or email@example.com.