Choice Market opened its first small-format c-store this week, a 24/7-365 Mini-Mart at the The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, about 15 miles east of downtown Denver.
The 400 square-foot c-store — the first autonomous market in a healthcare setting — took Choice nearly two years to develop, Mike Fogarty, founder and CEO of Choice Market, said in an interview.
It has about 800 SKUs and is designed for universities, hospitals, airports and other types of businesses that don’t have a ground-floor store. It’s also the first Choice Market store to exclusively rely on cashierless checkout — unlike Choice’s other stores which, although they have frictionless checkout, still have a cashier inside the store.
“It’s the first of several Mini-Mart locations in the works,” Fogarty said.
Additionally, the Mini-Mart marks the debut of Choice’s second QSR concept, Choice Latin, which features tortas, cubano sandwiches, tacos, bowls, salads and more. Its first, a sushi concept called Ikigai, launched about six months ago.
Choice, which has been food-focused since its conception, sees 50% of its sales from foodservice, Fogarty said.
“At our core, we’ve always been a restaurant,” he said. “We lean into prepared foods — it’s the true value and differentiator for Choice.”
The Mini-Mart store is Choice’s fourth store to date. Choice’s three other stores in the Denver area include two large-format “urban” stores and one “mobility center,” resembling a traditional gas station with fuel and electric-vehicle charging stations.
Choice doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The company plans to reach six stores in the coming months — one urban market at the University of Denver, and another in Denver’s River North neighborhood.
The latter will be Choice’s largest store to date at over 5,000 square feet, Fogarty said. It will feature both Choice Latin and Ikigai restaurants as well as more grocery items, which Choice selects based on where each store is located. The company specifically focuses on offering grocery items from local suppliers in each area.
“We curate groceries based on cultural differences and price points,” he said. “Maybe 10 to 15% of it is customized based on the neighborhoods we service, especially in new markets.”
When asked what he’s excited about as 2023 approaches, Fogarty didn’t hesitate to bring up Choice’s tiered loyalty program and how the company looks to create experience-based incentives over financial rewards for its members.
Case in point: In a couple of weeks, Choice is hosting an invite-only concert for its top 100 loyalty members, featuring Steve Perkins, the drummer for rock band Jane’s Addiction. Choice has also considered an option where its corporate chef cooks a private meal for a top loyalty member and a group of their friends.
“[Our loyalty program] is completely differentiated with what we think our core customer wants,” Fogarty said. “It’s not just dollars off your next purchase, it’s unique experiences we think will be a huge part of Choice’s growth.”
While he didn’t specify which regions, Fogarty said Choice is looking to eventually expand outside of its home area of Denver moving forward in a multitude of store formats.
“It’s part of our longer-term strategy to rethink what it means to be convenient,” he said.