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Michigan State opens urban-style grocery store

Sparty’s Market offers fresh products in an upscale atmosphere to students, staff and campus visitors.

A few weeks before students arrived on campus, the culinary services division at Michigan State University opened a long-awaited addition to campus food options. Sparty’s Market, the first grocery store operated under the campuswide Sparty’s brand, is a market-style grocery with a focus on fresh ingredients, gourmet foods, local products, and deli and grill items.

More than 20 Sparty’s stores—organized into “Express,” “Refresh” and “Café” concepts—dot the campus of 50,000 students. For many years, these stores have offered students and staff a place to purchase convenience items, such as snacks and sundry items, as well as specialty drinks and made-to-order foods at select locations.

The addition of a full grocery store gives students and staff the opportunity to “dine on campus without giving up parking or taking extra time” to travel somewhere else for a meal, says Guy Procopio, executive director of culinary services. “It will allow students, faculty and staff to spend more time studying, working, or spending quality time with friends and family.”

Cheryl Berry, marketing and communications manager for culinary services, says the market will increase options for students living on campus by giving them more ready access to fresh produce, meats and other ingredients so they can make their own meals.

Students “have the option of purchasing a meal plan to eat on campus,” Berry says. “But they can also do much of their own cooking in their apartment homes, which feature full kitchens in every unit.” In addition to cash, credit or debit, students can opt to pay using campus Spartan Cash or up to one meal a day on a meal plan.

Sparty’s Market is strategically located, adjacent to a new campus apartment structure that houses more than 1,200 people and within walking distance of another 2,400-student housing complex. It’s also near both the Breslin Student Events Center and Spartan Stadium.

The building that houses the market was built from the ground up and is also home to a full-service Starbucks, an apparel store and a number of administrative offices. The next step is to obtain LEED certification for the structure.

The interior was designed to create a high-end experience. The store has an “urban look and feel,” Berry says, “with high ceilings, wood tones and chalkboard signs, which creates a much more upscale feel than the traditional Sparty’s stores.”

To decide what to sell, culinary services ran a number of focus groups to determine product categories, pricing, shopping frequency and other aspects of the project. They sent representatives to another large university to research a similar market. Retail representatives attended a grocery summit to help them shape the take-home meal operation.

The market carries everything customers would expect in a full grocery store, including produce, bulk foods, household items, common international ingredients, baby supplies, over-the-counter medications, and cooler and freezer items. But in addition to groceries, the culinary division’s central goal is to fill in the evening meal gap with fresh, healthy options for busy students, both individuals and families.

This marriage between fresh foods and convenient meals is crucial to the market’s success. “Students and staff lead fast-paced lives,” Berry says. “Bridging our community’s lifestyle needs with their desire for wholesome food was essential.”

The space includes a full deli and grill with fresh daily options such as salads, hot and cold entrées and side dishes. Customers can even pick up a prepared rotisserie chicken for a quick take-home meal. Much of their marketing focuses on groups of ingredients for make-at-home meals.

They seem to be on the right track. Their hottest sellers so far are bulk foods, deli and grill options and produce.

The market offers local items that aren’t available at other Sparty’s stores. Pies, breads, snack bars and even fresh flowers are sourced locally and delivered daily. Some produce is from the MSU Student Organic Farm. A “Made in the Mitten” section highlights local products such as apple chips, toffee, hot sauce, snack bars and canned chili.

The market uses more than 30 vendors and suppliers, including local supplier Stan Setas Produce Co. and national distributor Lipari Foods. It sells local goods by vendors such as Sweetie-licious Bakery Cafe, Glazed and Confused bakery and Lansing-based Woody’s Oasis Mediterranean Deli.

Market hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The store is operated by about 100 employees; more than 80 of whom are student workers.

Procopio hopes the market will be a point of pride for students, faculty and staff. “We want the market to be the campus community’s market.

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