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Thursday, November 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 10.0° F  Fair
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Is Madison ready for Hy-Vee?
Iowa supermarket set to open its first Wisconsin store on Tuesday
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Hy-Vee has revamped the exterior and landscaped and reconfigured the parking lot of the old K-Mart on East Washington.
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

Hy-Vee is already a well-established chain in Iowa, but it set its sights on Madison as the place that would be right to open its first LEED-certified (green-built) store. "We thought Madison would be a great place to try making our buildings more carbon efficient, and do more recycling," says Hy-Vee C.E.O. Ric Jurgens, in town in advance of next week's grand opening.

Madison is well known as "a socially conscious community," says Jurgens, and so consumers here should be interested in the steps that Hy-vee has taken to be both green in its operations and in what it is doing as a company to improve its shoppers' health.

Madison's Hy-Vee will be "much more than a grocery store," company leaders said in a press conference Friday afternoon.

The Hy-Vee store is an infill development, transforming the former K-Mart at 3801 East Washington Ave. Taking advantage of an existing structure is more difficult than building new construction on the perimeter, but Hy-Vee is more interested in taking advantage of infill sites when available. Hy-Vee plans a second location in Westgate Mall, also improving a declining in-city property. While permits are in place for that store, say officials, ground-breaking is not scheduled until next spring.

Other green aspects of Hy-Vee East include skylights for natural lighting, electric lights that turn on only when needed (indeed the lights in a frozen food case perked up only as I passed by), efficient HVAC and refrigeration, low VOC paint and other interior materials. The store is on public transportation routes and the parking lot (with natural landscaping) has 20 dedicated parking spaces for fuel-efficient cars. A shower and bike racks will be available for employees who bike to work.

More Hy-Vee initiatives highlighted by Jurgens include an in-store dietician, who'll walk the store with people who suffer from allergies, diabetes, or have other health concerns; food safety fail-safes like checkouts that will literally not allow you to buy recalled food items; the "Nu-Val" rating system, which is posted on shelves for each product and essentially boils down the back-label nutrition info to one number from 1-100 which gives the consumer an idea of how healthy the food is, with fruits and veg scoring near 100 and, say, a goldfish cracker down in the 20s.

"The health care crisis can in part be averted by improving health," says Jurgens. There are also a number of health initiatives for Hy-Vee employees, including a group weight-loss project.

The 90,000 square-foot store will employ 400 workers, many of whom were at a training session and corporate introduction/pep rally Friday afternoon. That gathering took place in the large in-store dining area. As with most contemporary supermarkets, there will be a large portion of the store devoted to prepared meals, and the store will employ a chef, Joel Girard.

The store also includes a well designed meeting room/space for cooking classes, a wine and spirits shop, organic area, pharmacy, florist, sports shop (read: Badgers! Packers! gear), deli, bakery, and seafood areas. A Caribou Coffee stand will also be on the premises.

Hy-Vee has made efforts to stock Wisconsin cheeses, other Wisconsin products and work with local farmers to supply some local produce. It has also been working with Troy Gardens and its farm, providing a grant for a new watering system for Troy and buying its sprout mixes for use in deli salads.

This Hy-Vee is well located in a part of town that has long wanted a closer market; it's also directly on the route to East Towne. The nearest store is an Aldi Market, with a Cub, Copps, and Woodmans nearby -- but none are on easy or obvious routes like East Washington.

Hy-Vee's health and green initiatives are unusual among the large Madison grocery stores. But it's unlikely to best super-green, super-local offerings from the Willy Street Co-op.

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