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COVINGTON, La. -- The first sought-after element of a great new prototype is a great new location. Diaz Market recently found that in Covington, La., a town that has been experiencing significant migration and expansion ever since the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.
"We always wanted to be a part of the Covington community after Katrina -- there was a need for a gas/convenience store -- and then last year, a property opportunity came up," recalled Giselle Diaz Eastlack, general manager of the 20-store Diaz Market chain founded by her parents in 1996.
Besides being located in a sprouting town, what also made the new store site so ideal is its close proximity to the area's Coquille Parks and Recreation Center, which offers a variety of youth athletic programs and outdoor areas for the health-conscious local community.
While securing the location for the company's expansion, Eastlack was pleased to discover that the nearby recreation center was likewise in the process of expanding. "So, we thought it was the perfect time to open the store," she told CSNews Online.
Diaz Market's Covington prototype was intentionally designed to incorporate healthy snack and meal alternatives, now highlighted by a "huge, open-air cooler that is noticeable to customers as soon as they walk into the store," Eastlack said. "We want to offer a variety of products -- sweet treats for families going to the playground, but also have healthy alternatives."
The open-air cooler offers a selection of fresh convenience cuisine, including fruit cups, salads, sandwiches, flatbread sandwiches, fresh snack packs and wraps. It is intended to give customers access to the healthy eating options they prefer at the convenience they need.
The prototype started out with just a four-foot section dedicated to these "better-for-you" options when it had its soft opening in December of last year. By March of this year, however, the store had already expanded the section to eight feet, plus the retailer added an endcap dedicated to healthier alternatives, as well as the aforementioned open-air cooler.
"We are constantly tweaking our product mix depending on requests from customers," Eastlack explained. The fresh expansion in March ushered in more fresh sandwiches, more fruit cups and more cheese/fruit combo plates that customers can grab and go, she said.
In fact, the Covington store has become the inspiration for making healthier tweaks to all of Diaz Market's food offerings chainwide.
"It's our reaction to a change we see in the mindset of our customers," said Eastlack. "It's clear that not everybody is looking for chips every single day. Sometimes, they want to get something healthy, fresh, a better-for-you item. People are so busy now. So, when we can offer something healthier for our customers, they don't have to run somewhere else to get these products."
Top-selling categories for the chain continue to be fountain beverages, coffee bar beverages and cigarettes, but many healthier alternatives are now in its top 50 SKUs, according to Eastlack. "They're definitely rising upwards," she noted.
Metairie, La.-based Diaz Market is currently in the process of remodeling two older stores that will be reconfigured into larger convenience stores modeled after the Covington store. The remodels, though, will have one "next evolution" addition -- both will have a deli, which was not put into the Covington store for space reasons.
For the long term, Diaz Market is looking to completely remodel all of its existing stores.