When shoppers walk into the Fresh Market, their senses are overwhelmed with a range of scents and sights — the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread, the smell of ripening fruit and the colorful explosion of flowers.

Reminiscent of open European-style markets, the Fresh Market offers a wide variety of high quality, perishable products. “Everything about the store is designed to enhance the food shopping experience,” says COO Craig Carlock. Founded by Ray and Beverly Berry in 1982, the Fresh Market remains a family-owned and privately-held company and boasts annual sales greater than $500 million, according to Carlock. Over the past 26 years, the company has grown from one store in Greensboro, N.C. to more than 75 locations in 18 states.

Although Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market is the national concept that is most similar to the Fresh Market, the company considers its primary competition to be conventional grocery stores. However, it is usually able to co-exist with traditional operators, and in many cases, the Fresh Market shares the same parking lot with them.

Unlike Whole Foods or conventional grocery stores, the Fresh Market stores average 20,000 to 22,000 square feet, creating a smaller, more intimate shopping experience, according to Rob Koch, regional director of real estate for the chain. Each store generates an average of 7,000 shopping trips per week, some destination and some impulse.

The Fresh Market prefers mature trade areas to “frontier growth markets,” Koch says, and usually situates stores in areas with a population of 125,000 people within five miles and average household incomes of $150,000 or more. The company targets upscale neighborhood centers, but is willing to operate in both second-generation space and new in-fill developments.

The majority of the Fresh Market stores are concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest, although further expansion is underway in those regions as well as the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Carlock thinks the latter two regions offer the best opportunity for the firm's continued growth.

Carlock says the current economic conditions haven't forced the Fresh Market to veer from those plans. Eventually, the company has goals of operating countrywide; however, it does not have a timeline going west. “Our concept has proven very portable and there are a lot of opportunities for us,” Carlock says. “We're just being patient and finding very good sites in very good markets.”