Englewood is already a beach and dining destination, and thanks to Lisa and Paul Crawford, it may be on its way to become a grocery-shopping destination. The Crawfords opened Sunflower Discount Market on the site of the former Save-A-Lot market in Englewood Plaza, on November 6. You would have to go to Fort Myers to find another store like it, and that would be the Crawfords’ first Sunflower Discount Market.
Lisa Crawford said that, living in Colorado, she and her family picked up nearly all their groceries at a store offering discontinued brands, dented packages and other unwanted items for a fraction of the cost of traditional grocery stores.
When they moved to Fort Myers, there was nothing like it, so she said she and Paul, a pilot, decided to open their own store. It was so successful the couple wanted to expand.
Why Englewood? “We had so many customers in Fort Myers who regularly drove down from Port Charlotte, Venice, and Englewood. They were very vocal in their desire to see us expand up this way! They were also our best and first supporters! We wouldn’t be doing as well as we are without their enthusiasm in sharing about us with their friends.”
The couple liked Englewood so much they rented a home here to be close to the store and become part of the community. Their children both work at the Fort Myers store.
How is Sunflower different from chains like Publix or adored specialty grocers like Trader Joe’s? Why are its customers so devoted, they drive for miles, often several times a week to cruise the aisles?
I wanted to see for myself, and one hour and $70 later, I was hooked. If I could even find a six-pack of my favorite beverage, Orangina, it would set me back at least $6, yet here it was for $2.79. The Jewish food section had more options than I had seen since moving from the Northeast to Florida, allowing me to stock up for Passover. I felt like a thief for scoring a bag of $7 New Zealand mussels and I had to stare at the dozen organic brown eggs I was getting for $1, convinced something had to be wrong with them. I had never heard of The Famous Aretha Frankenstein’s pancake mix, but loved the name and the weird dented box. For $2.49, why not? That same box without the dents is $22.32 on Amazon.
Crawford says ‘Most food-related businesses have products that can’t be sold through traditional channels — discontinued product, packaging mishaps, overstock, warehouse mistakes, or products that are close to the sell-by date. We partner with these companies to buy the products at a discount and we pass along the savings to our customers.” Crawford says that this business model tackles two of our country’s major problems; food waste and the struggle for many to afford good, healthy food.
It makes sense, but it’s not the way people are used to shopping. That means the Crawfords have to spend more time educating people about the Sunflower concept. “I love having conversations with people about expiration and sell-by dates,” said Crawford, who assures potential customers about the safety of food in dented cans and beaten-up-boxes. “You can’t eat the packaging so why care what it looks like?” If a shopper is not satisfied with an item, they can return it to the store.
More often, Sunflower shoppers experience the opposite problem. They love something, come back for more and it’s gone. Because inventory is constantly changing, the pumpkin spice cider octopus in sunflower oil and frozen beet burgers you see on the shelf one day could literally be gone the next (like my Orangina). “We always tell people if you love it, buy it up,” said Crawford, and they do. She said savvy shoppers will fill their carts with craft beer, wine, mangoes and cheeses and then come back for more.
The good news is that many items are always available including the $1 eggs, Troyer deli, Tropicana juices, $5 bags of chicken tenders, 50-cent guacamole, and more. You will also always find produce from local farms, gluten-free and keto-friendly items, homeopathic and natural health care, international foods and frozen entrees at about half the cost of the supermarket.
Then there is the box (or is it a crate or vat?) of mix and match protein bars in a dizzying variety of brands and flavors. “People love that. It’s like a treasure hunt,” said Crawford. From chocolate chip to keto coconut, let’s call it a healthier way to bar hop.
Crawford said that more and more people are finding Sunflower, many by word of mouth and through the store’s Facebook page. “Our customers are super enthusiastic and tell their friends,” she said. Meanwhile, if you see a six-pack of Orangina, let me know.
Sunflower Discount Market, 431 S. Indiana Ave., open every day from 9 am to 7 pm. Face coverings are required. Shopping bags are not provided. Check out the Facebook page for specials and more. (941) 460-8709.