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Las Vegas WinCo Foods: Newly arrived grocer here to stay

By Luis Cabrera

There is a new contender in town, and this guy is coming for all the marbles. WinCo Foods recently started doing business here with two locations in the valley. A store opened in Northwest Las Vegas and another one in the city of Henderson in March of this year.

The newly arrived discount grocery may very well add a new definition to the term “big box store.” Its location is just that, big. Entering the store, one gets the impression that someone decided to fuse two well-known concepts; WinCo feels like a hybrid between a discount, low-budget grocery and a membership-only bulk seller.

Aisles are wide, and the shelves are stocked up high on the industrial-type structure seen at Costco or Sam’s Club. However, over here we get a complete deli department and a dedicated, formal butcher shop. In addition, there is a section with rows of cylindrical crates full of dry comestibles sold by the pound. Adding to the warehouse style, wooden pallets holding merchandise are stationed in the middle of the store’s floor, featuring advertised specials.

WinCo Foods’ headquarters are in Boise, Idaho, and the company currently operates 80 stores with a workforce of more than 13,000 employees. In addition to Idaho, the chain has locations in six other western states, including Washington, California, Utah, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada. The chain takes pride in being employee-owned, and it openly states so outside, with big letters that accompany the trademark name. WinCo’s revenue for the 2011 fiscal year was just shy of five billion dollars.

Inside the WinCo in Las Vegas, an attendant commented that the starting wage for everyone at floor level is nine dollars per hour. She also added that the retailer hired about 200 people here to staff its operation at her store. Employees at WinCo do not belong to any labor union.

“Better than Wal-Mart”

An anonymous shopper, whom I met outside, said that she likes WinCo because it has “great prices and good food.” She went on to say that prices at “WinCo are better than WalMart’s and beat Smiths by a lot.”

Tiffani Floyd and her companion live in Summerlin, but they make a round trip north every week just to get their groceries from WinCo. Floyd said that she is “impressed with the staff” because they are very knowledgeable. “They know exactly where everything is” she commented, “I actually tested them today; customer service is great.” Floyd and her friend also added that on top of low prices, the store offers savings with coupons. “We buy for five or six family members,” they confided; and the long drive? “It’s worth it.”

Clearly, local supermarkets have taken notice of the newcomer. For example, in a WalMart just a few miles from WinCo, there were two “competing” shopping carts side by side on display, one from each retailer. Both baskets were filled with similar products neatly packed, and flanked by respective receipts totaling the final tally. In another case, a close by Smith’s grocery had ads all over the aisles, comparing their prices to those of WinCo.

If the established guys are taking defensive measures, then it must mean the company from Boise is doing something right.

Local shoppers are used to price wars between competing food marts in Las Vegas. The new big kid in town, however, may take that battle to another level.