New Convenience Store in Saco, Maine, Features Biodiesel Fuel, Organic Food

Garry Glatz hopes people who want to fill their gas tanks with alternative fuel also will want to fill their stomachs with natural and organic food.

Oct. 15—SACO, Maine — Garry Glatz hopes people who want to fill their gas tanks with alternative fuel also will want to fill their stomachs with natural and organic food.

Glatz is preparing to open New Day Naturals here, a natural foods convenience store that also has gas pumps with renewable fuels. As far as Glatz can tell, this is the first convenience store in the country to pair these products.

"I just saw a need and an opportunity," he said.

Glatz has experience in running a convenience store and has been involved with starting food co-ops. His brother, Joel Glatz, president of Frontier Energy in China, is the state's leading dealer of biodiesel, which is a blend of soybean-derived fuel and petroleum.

The demand for natural and organic foods is growing in America, as people pay more attention to healthy eating. Biodiesel use is expanding, too, because the home-grown fuel causes less air pollution and can reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil.

To Garry Glatz, putting these two trends together was a natural connection.

Glatz plans to open New Day Naturals for business on Oct. 23, with six employees. A grand opening and ribbon-cutting with state officials and renewable energy supporters is set for Oct. 29.

He said he has invested roughly $20,000 of his own money to get started, and he is projecting gross sales of $250,000 in the first year. He hopes to expand his retail space early next year and possibly open stores in two other locations within five years.

But Glatz's more immediate challenge is testing his concept on a small scale and proving there's a crossover market for healthy food and renewable fuels.

He is comforted by the knowledge that dedicated shoppers will travel a bit to patronize health-food stores, and that motorists will seek out the state's few biodiesel pumps to fill up their diesel cars.

Because these markets already exist, New Day Naturals won't need to preach to the choir.

"We're blessed in a way," he said, "because the choir will drive to find us."

Glatz feels confident about the fuel side of the venture.

Sales of biodiesel at Frontier Energy have doubled over each of the past two years, he said. Some companies with truck fleets are using it. People who own cars with diesel engines, such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI that Glatz drives, also want it.

Diesel engines can run on 100 percent vegetable-based biofuel — a product called B-100. But the most popular fuel is a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, known as B-20.

But biodiesel can't be used in gasoline engines, which is what most cars on the road burn. And it tends to be 15 cents a gallon or so more expensive than petroleum diesel. So, New Day Naturals may be able to attract a wider circle of earth-conscious drivers by selling ethanol.

Made primarily from corn in the Midwest, ethanol sales are booming in other states. No one sells it now in Maine, but Joel Glatz wants to start carrying it by next spring. He estimates that 30,000 late-model cars in Maine can run on a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, known as E-85.

Any car can burn 10 percent ethanol, E-10, he said. New Day Naturals plans to eventually phase out its regular gasoline pump and only sell E-10.

As a sideline, the business also will deliver B-20 to customers who warm their homes with heating oil. Furnaces and boilers also can burn biodiesel.

At a conventional convenience store, fuel pumps are a magnet to bring people inside. That formula may be flipped at New Day Naturals, Glatz said. He thinks some customers will fill their cars here because of what the store has to offer.

Glatz is leasing a 60-year-old building that served as a convenience store in the late 1990s. Earlier this week, he was stocking shelves.

Glatz figures people coming into a natural foods convenience store want many of the same things they find in a conventional quick mart — chips, bars, cookies, soda, beer and coffee. But there will be differences. Candy junkies can forget about a Milky Way bar or a pack of Rolos. They can choose instead from soy protein or oat bars, or premium gourmet chocolate bars that give 10 percent of profits to preserving endangered species.

Bags of greasy potato chips are replaced by baked natural corn chips and tomato-basil vegetable chips.Organic tea, natural, microwave soups and recycled paper products also line the shelves. Soon, locally produced milk, eggs, butter and meat will be in the coolers, along with Maine-made beer and bread and locally distributed coffee.

Anyone who dashes in for a pack of smokes will be disappointed.

"I'll lose some customers because of that," Glatz said. "But I'll have just as many and maybe more who come because I don't sell cigarettes."

Cigarettes aside, other Maine businesses have explored the synergy among alternative energy, natural foods and related products. Interest in one doesn't always translate into sales for another, a nearby York County business has found.

Solar Market in Arundel designs homes and sells products that use energy more efficiently, including systems that generate electricity and heat water with the sun. The company also sells B-100 biodiesel.

Naoto Inoue, co-founder of Solar Market, said he started selling biodiesel as a loss leader. His goal was to lure environmentally aware drivers from the biodiesel pump into the store.

"But I don't think I have one biodiesel customer who has turned into a solar customer," he said.

Sometimes, the whole idea of customer crossover is just off the mark.

Mac McCabe is president of O'Naturals, the natural quick-serve restaurant chain that started in Falmouth. When the Falmouth store opened, McCabe put a grocery section in the back with natural cereal, milk, eggs and other staples. Initial research had suggested that people who ate at a natural-foods restaurant might also pick up similar products to take home.

That didn't happen, and O'Naturals phased out its grocery section.

O'Naturals located its stores in high-income, high-education areas, because McCabe says there's a link between those demographics and interest in natural foods. He said he was curious about how those demographics line up for the Saco site.

"I really want to be enthusiastic," he said. "I'm just wondering if there's a match between (customers) and the demand for these products."

Glatz has considered this question. He realizes New Day Naturals isn't at the optimum location.

On the plus side, the store is at the junction of Routes 1, 5 and Interstate 195, and has plenty of traffic passing nearby. A new sign reading "Frontier Energy and Independence Fuel" is visible from the highway. And the presence of two health food stores in downtown Biddeford and Saco suggests there's a core of potential customers out there.

Sure, Glatz would like a high-profile spot on the commuter routes from Freeport to Falmouth, but he can't afford it.

"At some point," he said, "you just have to go on your gut."

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