This may be your Lucky day

Nearly a decade after it fell victim to a corporate takeover, the Lucky grocery store brand is finding new life in Southern Nevada.

Officials of Albertsons, the grocer that bought out Lucky’s parent company in 1998 and mothballed the nameplate in 1999, have revived Lucky in a bid to lure cost-conscious consumers. Two Albertsons stores in east Las Vegas took on the Lucky name in 2006, and two more Albertsons outposts in the southwest and the north will assume the Lucky identity Wednesday.

“As we were looking to come back and serve certain portions of the community with everyday low prices, we thought bringing back the Lucky name was the exact right thing to do,” said Sue Klug, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Albertsons. “Delivering the right products and services at the right prices: Lucky is the right brand for that.”

The slogan — “Lucky means low prices” — is the same, but this incarnation of Lucky looks a little different than shoppers might remember.

Rather than serving broad markets with the prepared foods that line the aisles of most modern supermarkets, Albertsons officials are stocking Lucky’s shelves mostly with fresh meats, specialty produce and ethnic foods. The chain’s key consumer: the budget-minded home cook seeking value and quality, Klug said.

“(Lucky customers) still have those (kitchen) skills,” Klug said. “They’re doing more cooking than warming. They’re interested in finding the best meats and produce, but they also might be looking for something different, like a thin cut of meat or a round chuck they’re going to marinate all day and cook for dinner.”

Lucky’s focus on a single slice of shoppers is part of an industrywide splintering of the grocery-sector pie, experts said.

“Retailers in the food industry have to pick target markets for their stores,” said Frank Dell, president of the Retail Technology Group in Stamford, Conn. “You can no longer be a store for everybody unless you’re the only store in town.”

Added Neil Stern, a senior partner with Chicago retail consultant McMillan/Doolittle: “Supermarket retailers are trying to develop multiple formats to reach specific customer segments. From that standpoint, the Lucky strategy makes a lot of sense.”

That strategy goes beyond the food and merchandising lineup.

For starters, Lucky will eschew loyalty cards and advertising specials that push deep discounts. Instead of such promotional cost breaks, Lucky stores will aim for “consistent low pricing,” Klug said.

And the services available through Lucky stores will also deviate from the perks consumers see at many neighborhood grocery stores. For example, the home delivery that Albertsons offers won’t be a priority at Lucky, because patrons of Lucky are more interested in low prices than they are in added benefits that might push costs up, Klug said.

Retail broker Dan Adamson, a principle of ROI Commercial Real Estate in Las Vegas, said locals will likely welcome the new stores. Before it disappeared in 1999, Lucky was well-known in Las Vegas, and the brand was also popular in Southern California, a prime source of Southern Nevada transplants.

“The Lucky brand was a very, very strong brand before it converted to Albertsons, and I think they’ll probably get a good reception,” Adamson said. “There’s a lot of value to that brand identity.”

The Lucky brand launched in the 1930s in Northern California. As the company grew into one of the largest supermarket chains in the West, it drew corporate suitors: American Stores of Utah bought Lucky in 1988, and a decade later, Albertsons bought American Stores. Albertsons then rebranded all of its Lucky locations, including 25 stores in Southern Nevada, with the Albertsons mark.

The change was ill-advised in cities such as Las Vegas, where Lucky had a “very endearing position” to shoppers, Stern said.

“If Albertsons made a mistake, the mistake was switching the brand over to Albertsons instead of Lucky,” Stern said. “That decision might have haunted them in some markets.”

Still, Albertsons doesn’t plan to carpet the Las Vegas Valley with converted Lucky stores. In addition to the four new stores in Las Vegas, the company has converted three locations in Southern California. Additional changeovers among Albertsons’ 286 other stores in Las Vegas and Southern California aren’t on the drawing boards in the near term, because company executives want to assess how the new Lucky stores fare in the next few months. There’s room for perhaps another “handful” of Lucky stores in Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles, Klug said.

“Lucky stores will be used tactically in the neighborhoods where they make the most sense,” she said.

“When you think about brands you grew up with that went away, to have those brands come back has a great nostalgic value,” she added. “I think it’s going to be very exciting to folks. We’re thrilled to be back, and we think people will be happy to have us back.”

The rebranding isn’t resulting in any changes in employee counts, Klug said. Each store is keeping its core of about 60 workers.

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