It’sAuf WiedersehenAlbertsons and hello Haggen on Lincoln Boulevard.

Albertsons closed at 6 p.m. April 23 and Haggen officially opens April 25. The store has new branding, new products and will continue to evolve in the coming weeks.

Grocery giants Safeway and Albertsons announced plans to merge last year. As part of the regulatory approval of the deal, the combined company was forced to sell some of its stores, including the Albertsons in Santa Monica.

Haggen, a then-small grocery chain in based in Washington state, said it would purchase 146 of those excess stores, growing its company from 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies; from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000 employees.

At the corporate level, the takeover is happening over several months. Haggen will convert the 83 stores across California in March, April and May. The 26 Washington store conversions began in mid-February, and 20 Oregon store conversions began in mid-March. The seven Nevada and 10 Arizona stores will be the last to convert in late spring. Each week, between one and 12 stores will be converted.

However, at the local level, the changes begin with a sprint and end in a marathon.

“There’s a lot we can do in 40 hours,” said Haggen Pacific Southwest CEO Bill Shaner. “Customers will see new signs, d√©cor, we’ll freshen the store, we’ll de-clutter the store, change the ancillary displays, make it a little easier, a little more open and bright. There will be three times the number of organic produce items and an awesome produce department that I know customers will be impressed with. We have an emphasis on organic produce and wide variety of that. They’ll see a lot more all-natural meats and salads in the deli department, a little higher quality, higher-grade products; in the meat, more grass-fed beef, natural pork and free-range chicken and much wider variety in the fresh departments.”

He said the initial burst would take the store to about the figurative 40-yard line with the remaining distance to be covered in incremental changes in the coming weeks.

Shaner describes Haggen as a hybrid grocery store. The company sources locally whenever possible — its seafood case will be stocked by Santa Monica Seafood — and values organic products throughout, but it also carries name-brand items. Customers can find Oreos and Cheerios, but they will also have access to a much wider selection of natural products and items associated with stores like Whole Foods.

Shaner said Santa Monica is a great fit for their model as customers put a premium on quality and that the local stores will evolve to fit their customers.

“We will listen and be responsive,” he said. “We’re big enough that we’ve got some economies of scale but we can be responsive to our customers. That’s one of our values. We’re going to be listening to what our customers tell us.”

While changes will be made, one stalwart feature will be the staff.

“We’re proud to continue employing all the wonderful associates our customers look for when they shop and offering shoppers the essential items they need, specialty items they want, and locally relevant items that reflect the community,” Shaner said.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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