Walking into the completely transformed remodel of Strack & Van Til’s Valparaiso store, it’s easy to see the incredible amount of work and planning that has gone into making the location into one of the premier grocery stores in the region.
Right away, the quality, variety and amount of fresh produce is the first thing that you’ll encounter. While Strack & Van Til did not expand the location in terms of square footage, the way the store has been remodeled makes that fact hard to believe.
The first customer comment that could be heard as we toured the store with Strack & Van Til Vice President, Chris Bengtson, spoke about space and how much bigger the store seemed to be. By making the right changes in the right places, the team at Strack was able to do get the most out of the existing space.
“We’re focusing on variety,” Bengtson said. “Whereas, we may have had 20 feet of apples and five varieties, now we’ll have 20 feet of apples with 8 varieties. We’re absolutely adding variety.”
One of the new features available at the remodeled store is the fresh squeezed juices that customers will be able to order. Customers can pick any fruits or vegetables to use and Strack & Van Til will have an associate working at the station who can create your favorite fresh juices then and there.
“It’s all made in-house and the varieties are endless,” said Bengtson. “We did the exact same thing in Schererville and found that people do have requests, and nowhere else can you do anything like that.”
The new sushi bar is already up and running and it’s been a huge hit in the short time that it’s been open. Strack & Van Til works with a company who provides experienced sushi chefs who prepare an incredible selection of fresh sushi every day.
One of the biggest, most exciting changes to the location was centered around the deli which features a jewelry style, flat front display case which is one of the best displays in our industry, and showcases their massive selection.
In the deli, Strack & Van Til added a salad bar, hot foods bar, hummus and olive bar, and a brand new smoker which allows Strack to offer brisket and pulled pork, among other items. All of these added features are unique to the area and, if you’re looking to grab a quick lunch, you can head over to the cafe style eating area that is upgraded with TV’s and casual seating.
“People want easy and quick prepared solutions that aren’t necessarily fast food,” Bengtson said. “This is the only combination hot and salad bar in our company too. We’ve worked to combine the two and it’s huge. It’s the biggest one we have and, so far, it’s been a big hit.”
This store has always had a large selection of cheese but with the remodel that selection has grown to include over 300 varieties of specialty cheese.
“We’ve added a lot of different gourmet and specialty cheeses that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Leona Patten, who is in her 7th year working at this location. “The store is so completely different. It looks beautiful and I really look forward to coming to work every day!”
Another great addition is the in-store, full service scratch bakery which features an expanded gourmet dessert selection as well as a gourmet popcorn shop which is exclusive to Valparaiso.
Strack & Van Til has really created a destination in the remodel and broadening of their beer and wine selection. In shifting the deli, space was made available for the expanded department that allows them to offer customers one of most diverse selections of craft beers and specialty wines you’ll find in the city, including an incredible array of bombers as wells as a great ‘Pick 6 - Mix and Match’ section that features many of the most popular craft beers.
“This is a whole new department,” Bengtson said. “We’ve created a specialty wine wall that includes some really exclusive wines and we’re now able to offer three times as many craft beers.”
In addition to all of the fresh and specialty upgrades, Strack & Van Til’s full service meat and seafood case now offers a broadened selection of specialty cuts, prepared entrees, and fresh fish including a new fresh live lobster tank.
During the planning of the project and the actual remodeling, energy efficiency was a major factor that Strack & Van Til was looking to address. Changing refrigeration fan motors to more energy efficient running motors, adding glass doors to all of the open front dairy cases, outfitting the entire store with new energy efficient LED lighting and added insulation to the underside of the entire store’s new open ceiling were all in an effort to reduce the store’s energy consumption.
Annually, the store expects to conserve electricity to equal a reduction of over 800,000 kilowatt hours, nearly a 20% reduction in electricity usage.
The growth of the location has also led to the hiring of around 40 new associates to attend to the expanded departments around the store.
“We’ve added 15 people in the cafe, we added a specialty cheese gal, and we’ve expanded our personnel for the hot foods bar, salad bar, and a few more people working in at the smoker and at our popcorn stand” added Ken Bair, Director of Operations.
For Bengtson, and Strack & Van Til, shopping is all about the experience. “It’s the little things that keep people excited and coming back to see what’s new. The trends change and at some point people are going to want something different but it’s been fun and it’s been well received.”
“To hear shoppers say, ‘we love the store’, what I realized is that what they love is the people and the relationships that they have with them. It’s not just about the colors of the building and how pretty the floral case is. That makes a difference, but it’s the people that really make the difference.”
Before the re-opening celebration, Strack & Van Til brings all of their associates together for a ‘Taste of Valparaiso’ where employees get the chance to try all of the new and exciting things that their location now offers.
“This group was super fired up and really excited,” Bengtson said. “This impacted everyone in the store and that was a chance to say ‘thank you.’ They’re a really positive group and they’ve responded superbly to everything that’s been going on.”
About Strack and Van Til
Founded in 1960 Strack & Van Til is a grocery retailer focused on providing high-quality products in a unique and inviting atmosphere with a high level of customer service. The company currently operates stores in 2 states (Illinois and Indiana) under the banner names Strack and Van Til, Ultra Foods and Town and Country Market. Strack and Van Til is an equal opportunity employer.
For more information about Strack and Van Til, please contact Chris Bengtson, Vice President of Public Relations at 219-237-5027 or by email at BengtsonC@s-vt.com.