It was crunch time Tuesday afternoon at the new Sprouts Farmers Market on Marketplace Drive in Bel Air.
“This is the calm before the storm,” store manager Danni Spatola said.
The finishing touches were being put on signs, the final food items were being put on shelves and “Sproutees” were getting their final lessons before Wednesday’s 7 a.m. opening.
“We expect a busy day, a lot of excitement. We expect people lined up before the doors open, but not long lines at the registers," spokesman Diego Romero said. “A lot of people are just excited to see the new, healthy grocer on the block.”
Sprouts, about 30,000 square feet, took over the space left vacant with the departure of electronics store hhgregg. Renovations were expected to cost about $2.5 million, according to a building permit filed with the Town of Bel Air earlier this year.
The Arizona-based grocery store focuses on fresh, natural, organic products, Romero said.
“It makes healthy living affordable for everyone,” he said.
The chain has been expanding east from Arizona at a rate of about 30 stores a year. It is the third in Maryland, with other locations in Towson and Ellicott City.
“Bel Air is really underserved for healthy living and healthy living at great prices,” Romero said. “There’s not a lot of variety in grocery options and this location was really needing a new fresh retailer and anchor.”
Romero said it will likely draw more regionally than conventional grocery stores.
“We know shoppers are willing to go out of their way to find it and at a great price,” he said. “And we carry a wide selection of those products.”
In terms of pricing, Sprouts has a third of its items on promotion daily, “which really sets us apart from specialty grocers and helps us compete against a conventional, mainstream grocery store,” Romero said. “We’re aiming to provide healthy products to the everyday shopper in Bel Air.
“If you’re already eating healthy, you’ll notice our pricing is significantly less,” he said. “If you’re just starting healthy living for the first time, you’ll notice we have the best prices for produce and we’re affordably priced across the store for those organic, natural and specialty products.”
At the heart of every Sprouts store is its produce, which occupies about a quarter of the store’s floor space and a quarter of its business, he said.
The free-standing deli includes kombucha — a fermented tea rich in probiotics — on tap, freshly prepared foods ready to eat or ready to heat and a salad bar that runs along one side.
Seemingly every kind of kombucha is available on refrigerated shelves along the front wall.
The meat department, with “fresh, never frozen" beef, chicken and pork that is all choice cut or higher, features the dying art of a butcher, who can provide custom cuts or seasoning for meats.
It also has a variety of plant-based meat alternatives.
The store has 2,400 of its own products that are free from artificial ingredients, preservatives and color.
Its eggs are cage-free or better and the freezer is stocked with plant-based ice cream that Romero said is “really good.”
It has a long line of supplements, vitamins, natural beauty care products and cannabidiol — or CBD — topicals.
It also boasts hundreds of bulk food items, from gummy bears to grains and nuts to ground coffee and tea, at front and center in the store.
“It’s a more sustainable way to shop, it saves money and ultimately is better for the environment,” Romero said.
Healthy eating cooking demonstrations are held periodically, including one sold out Tuesday night during the friends and family event to showcase the store.
Sprouts also offers a money back guarantee.
“We know that healthy living takes getting used to and you might want to try out what’s best for you,” Romero said.
Customers can ask a “Sproutee” — a store employee — to open a package or cut open a fruit to sample in the store.
There’s also an area in front of the store for customers to “sit down and plug in” while enjoying one of the many prepared foods.
Spatola has been opening new Sprouts stores for the last three years but the Bel Air store is her first as its manager.
Originally from Arizona, she’s been with the company for seven years and has moved several times with the company. She and her husband are building a house in Aberdeen. She was eager for Wednesday’s opening.
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“I’m excited, nervous, and definitely excited to be here, for sure,” Spatola said.