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Buffalo food shoppers will have a new alternative starting Wednesday with the debut of the city's first Save-A-Lot Food Stores Inc. supermarket, located inside the Broadway Market.

The 17,000-square-foot Save-A-Lot is a limited assortment supermarket which will carry a much smaller array of goods than a conventional grocery store, but at significantly lower prices. The St. Louis-based chain of more than 700 stores in 33 states, 500 of which are independently-owned, boasts prices that are as much as 40 percent below those charged by traditional food retailers.

"We occupy a very unique niche in food retailing," said Michael Sewell, Save-A-Lot's marketing manager. "We carry a specific assortment of goods, 85 percent of which are sold under our own private labels, at prices that regularly beat the competition."

A typical Save-A-Lot customer has a household income of between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, but its low prices draw price sensitive consumers from a variety of income ranges.

During a trip down the aisles of Save-A-Lot, shoppers will see a number of name-brand products, such as Cheerios and Wheaties breakfast cereal, Arm & Hammer laundry detergent and Pine-Sol household cleaner.

But the majority of the names will be unfamiliar. Among Save-A-Lot's private label lines are: J. Higgs potato chips (named after Joe Higgs, the company's vice president of finance); Gilmore snack nuts (named after company comptroller Larry Gilmore) and McDaniels Coffee (borrowed from David McDaniel, vice president, marketing).

Consumers will also find that low-priced, private label goods don't have to come in plain black and white cans, or other bland,
unimaginative packing. Save-A-Lot's in-house art department turns out brightly-colored, attractive labels and wrappings which give the private label products a lot of eye appeal.

"It's all part of our strategy. The good-looking packaging reflects the high-quality products inside," Sewell said. "You may be paying less, but you're getting more."

The new Save-A-Lot, which takes the place of a 6,500-square-foot Tops Friendly Supermarket which closed in 1997, is the second to open in Western New York. The first debuted in Yorkshire in 1996 and a third area Save-A-Lot is slated to open in a former Bell's Market in North Collins early next year.

"We have relatively aggressive growth plans for Western New York and all of New York state," Sewell said. "So you can expect us to open more stores in the near future."

To facilitate expansion in New York and New England, Save-A-Lot has opened a large distribution center outside Albany.

Ron Horrigan, who with his brothers, Mike and Dave, will operate the Buffalo and North Collins locations, along with their Yorkshire store, said he expects the new Broadway Market store to draw beyond that neighborhood.

"Our primary target will be the immediate neighborhood, but it's our experience that we'll draw from a much larger area," Horrigan said. "We have people who drive 30 to 40 miles to stock up at the Yorkshire store, so we're expecting the same at the Buffalo store."

Buffalo-area shoppers got their first taste of limited assortment shopping in June, when Aldi Food Stores Inc., a direct competitor of Save-A-Lot opened its doors on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga.

Both stores stock their renditions of what are considered the core items of a typical shopping list, with the total number of items limited to a single brand and size of each of those products.

Save-A-Lot is a more upscale version of "no frills" food retailing, offering some 1,200 items, compared to Aldi's approximately 750, including a variety of fresh meats and produce.

And while Aldi shoppers generally select their purchases directly from shipping cases, Save-A-Lot puts its goods on traditional grocery shelves.

"20 years ago when we got started we were more low end, but we've evolved to a more refined presentation that fits what our shoppers told us they want," Sewell said. "As a result, a typical shopper can complete about 90 percent of their weekly shopping in one of our stores."

Among the items shoppers won't find at most Save-A-Lots are tobacco and alcohol products. The new Broadway Market Save-A-Lot will initially be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with plans to expand to Sunday hours and additional weekday hours in the first few weeks of operation.

The store takes only cash and food stamps as payment. No checks or credit cards are accepted. Shoppers are also required to bring their own bags or boxes and pack up their own groceries.