Going Upscale

When Rouse’s Markets opens its sixteenth store in Mandeville, LA, this coming fall, it will have taken another step into the future with a retail concept rooted firmly in centuries-old Louisiana mud.

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Important players in Rouse’s beverage alcohol program include
Jack Guess (left), wine buyer and department supervisor at the Houma
store, and Patrick Hiley (right), wine buyer and department supervisor at
the Covington store.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHERYL GERBER

The family-owned supermarket chain has embarked on establishing special “epicure-style” stores to help it maintain its position as an elite regional grocer. The new store will feature fine wines and a wide variety of all types of beverage alcohol products, provide lots of service, offer gourmet fare, and in general provide the lifestyle elements that some of the more affluent locals have come to expect.

fine_wines_houme Founded in 1960 by Anthony J. Rouse, Rouse’s is the largest Louisiana-owned grocery retailer, with stores sprinkled throughout the state’s southeast region, including Metairie, Houma, Thibodaux, Morgan City, Raceland, Lockport, Larose, White Castle and Covington. The company also own two shopping centers and approximately 300 acres on West Park in Houma.

Growth at Rouse’s has been the norm. The family’s first store was a 7,000-sq.-ft. grocery in Houma. Today, Rouse’s stores range in size from 15,000 to over 70,000 sq. ft. While the original Houma store had four employees, Rouse’s now employs over 1,600.

The concept behind Rouse’s grows from the ground up, like Spanish moss. “We’re from Louisiana,” explained President Donald Rouse, son of the founder. “We were born here, we grew up here, we know what people in Louisiana want and what they like to eat.” The company has developed its own line of home-smoked and Cajun specialty meats, including homemade sausage, boudin, head cheese, smoked meats, turduchen, and stuffed turkey, chicken and brisket.

In addition to the Cajun Specialty Meat department, Rouse’s features an expanding group of products and services, including prepared meals based on Louisiana recipes, delis, bakeries, catering, fine wine, and boiled seafood. Rouse is especially proud of the chain’s boiled crawfish and shrimp.

Most importantly for the future, Rouse’s store formats include a super store in Houma and the “epicure”-focused units in Houma and Thibodaux. The epicure locations feature traditional supermarket offerings as well as a multitude of new and upscale products, including the largest supermarket selection of wines in the state.

“I think the wine has proved itself,” said Jack Guess, wine buyer and department supervisor. “Mr. Rouse has told me they never dreamed it would be such a big commodity when they first branched out into the epicure-style market about six years ago.”

Large Selection

“We basically advertise ourselves as having the largest supermarket wine variety available,” said Dave Daroca, Rouse’s general manager. “That’s a pretty good statement to be able to make.” Beer is number one in sales, slightly ahead of wine, and then spirits. All told, Rouse’s carries nearly 3,000 wines, 400 SKUs of spirits, and close to 500 beers, according to Guess.

“Louisiana is an interesting place because you’re able to sell wine and spirits in a grocery store,” reflected the chain’s other wine buyer and department supervisor, Patrick Hiley. “Wine is a draw for the store. The high-profile varieties that we carry bring in customers who may or may not have come into Rouse’s before. It’s a pretty good asset that almost borders on advertising. And we do a good bit of volume.”

Beverage alcohol products are “a must-have item in this area,” said Daroca. The chain’s food offerings lend themselves to pairings with wine. “I say that’s also a crucial part of it.”

Daroca estimated sales of beverage alcohol account for up to 15% of the outlet’s sales in the fine-wine-type stores. “The penetration in a given week depends on the holiday at the time. Take the example of Mardi Gras: beers will pick up. Spirits will also pick up the closer it gets. When you shift to Thanksgiving, wines take over. So it just depends on the season.”

According to Hiley, “Most grocery chains sell probably 50% of their beverage alcohol in beer. In our fine wine stores that kind of flips around. Between 35% and 50% of the beverage alcohol sales will be wine, with the rest split between beer and spirits.”

Each of the six Rouse’s units that sell fine wine (two of them are epicure-style stores) has somebody on staff who is “pretty well educated in wine,” said Hiley, “and who is responsible for the ordering as well as customer service, hand-selling wines and putting together wine tastings.”

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