Jet Foods grocery chain plans stores in Carol Stream, Des Plaines, more suburbs
A new grocer making an aggressive move into the highly competitive Chicago area market plans to open stores in Carol Stream, Park Forest and Des Plaines before Thanksgiving.
Jet Foods will start hiring for the Carol Stream and Park Forest stores in the next two to three weeks, said John Everest Thomas, the CEO of Chicago-based parent company Freedom Development Group. Jet stands for his initials.
The chain is looking to take on grocery heavyweights by offering lower prices and prepared meals, catering to one industry trend for customers seeking convenience.
Jet Foods will enter the market as grocery sales surge during the COVID-19 pandemic while consumers work and eat more meals from home.
A grocery upstart also can take advantage of available commercial space left vacant by the pandemic's economic fallout rather than waiting to build stores from the ground up, one analyst said.
"Some of the market-rate deals that they're going to be able to make right now are going to be compelling as opposed to say, a Mariano's, when they were doing ground-up development," said John Melaniphy, president of Chicago consulting firm Melaniphy & Associates. "That gets very expensive."
The Chicago market generated almost $17 billion in grocery sales in 2019, Melaniphy said. But he cautioned that a variety of chains have come and left.
"I think there's an opportunity here for them," Melaniphy said. "They're just going to have to be very selective about their locations."
In Carol Stream, Jet Foods will occupy a 40,000-square-foot anchor space that's sat vacant for five years in County Farm Plaza near Army Trail and County Farm roads.
"It's a corner location, which is extremely visible," Thomas said.
But the strip mall, across the street from a Jewel-Osco, has struggled to retain a grocery store.
In March 2014, a Piggly Wiggly opened its first DuPage County store there to much fanfare, with village officials hoping it would draw shoppers familiar with the chain's Wisconsin locations.
The "Pig" promptly became Butera later that summer (the Butera family owns Piggly Wiggly Midwest). After about a yearlong stint, Butera closed its doors.
Thomas has sought to distinguish Jet Foods from the previous operator, which made produce a "minor component" of the store. In contrast, the new grocer will dedicate more than 5,000 square feet to fresh produce.
"We have our own butcher at every site," Thomas said.
Elsewhere, Thomas confirmed on Monday that Jet Foods is planning to open stores this year in Des Plaines, Rockford and south suburban Harvey.
Thomas said the chain also hopes to bring a possible store to Naperville next year. The city is the highest-grossing grocery market in the metropolitan area based on Illinois Department of Revenue data, according to Melaniphy & Associates. Naperville registered $411 million in sales last year.
"You have to make an impact and be able to spread your advertising costs over several stores," Melaniphy said. "And so until the consumer becomes acquainted with them, having multiple locations will make all their advertising dollars go farther."
Jet Foods already has applied for a village building permit to complete interior remodeling to the Carol Stream shopping center space.
The grocer also plans to seek a special-use permit to operate a small restaurant with a bar area inside the store, said Tom Farace, the village's planning and economic development manager.
That element of the project would require a review from the plan commission and zoning approval from the village board.
The chain also is launching a coffee brand called Jet Fuel for an in-store coffee bar.