Nowadays, many consumers would rather cocoon on their couches and order groceries online than shop the local supermarket. The ubiquitous stark lighting, utilitarian displays and monotonous aisles do little to alleviate the drudgery commonly associated with a trip to the grocer. But the look of the local market is changing as store designers recognize that traditional formats need a tweak. With new, upscale formats emphasizing the specialty side of food retail, grocery shopping is becoming a more refreshing experience.

For example, Foodland Supermarket in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, recently implemented a "fun-filled family marketplace" concept to attract shoppers in search of a quaint, boutique-style experience. Honolulu-based AM Partners Inc. created a series of small, interconnected shops along the peripheral aisles of the original Foodland store, simulating a dynamic streetside market.

The identity of each department is articulated by individual "storefronts," hand-crafted signage and custom displays. An inviting floorplan brings behind-the-counter operations such as the slicing of meat, kneading of bread and preparation of foods out into the open. As in a streetside market, customers can interact with the butcher and then watch as their order is prepared and packaged.

Foodland's bakery department, featuring an exposed, brick-faced oven, allows customers to communicate with store employees and share in the experience of baking bread. Areas serving freshly prepared foods are situated to encourage customer/vendor interaction while allowing shoppers to quickly find what they need and move on to another department. Energy-efficient skylights provide Foodland with natural illumination, conveying the bright and sunny atmosphere of an open market.

At Solon, Ohio's Mustard Seed Market and Cafe, healthful living is emphasized in the store's design. Herschman Architects, Beechwood, Ohio, drew inspiration from the market's organic products to create an immaculate, wholesome look. The store's first level features an organic food market, a "natural living" department and a commercial kitchen. The second level features a restaurant with its own kitchen, a banquet hall and a demonstration kitchen for Mustard Seed Market's cooking school.

Departments within the store are visually integrated with fixtures that blend the clean edge of stainless steel against the warmth of wood. Patterned floor tiles change scale to orient customers and define major first-level departments, while department identity was achieved with stainless steel lettering in relief along the sales floor. Aisle identification was accented with the Mustard Seed Market logo.

Steel kitchen equipment and black and stainless-steel, self-service cases are among the store's most visually impressive elements. Cooking units, hoods and accessories of stainless steel interact with custom, flat-cut cherry millwork and checkerboard-patterned, ceramic tile walls to create a clean and inviting image.