July 21, 2011

There’s a grand opening this Saturday for yet another humongous Asian supermarket in Flushing. It’s a jaw-dropping sign that New York City’s consumer base is shifting. Imagine: The number of residents of Asian heritage has surpassed the 1 million mark.

That’s more Asians than you’ll find in both Los Angeles and San Francisco put together. Today, one out of every eight New Yorkers is Asian — 12.5 percent. And I am in shock. Decades ago, I grew up in an isolated Manhattan Chinatown. Now I’m updating all my references!

The scale of what’s going on is mind-boggling. That feeling hit me again when I went on a recent media tour of Sky Foods, which hopes to feed some of those hungry Asians. Its 36,000-square-foot space at 40-28 College Point Blvd. has long aisles and an endless row of tanks for live fish. A dining area will feature prepared foods, a sushi counter and a juice bar. Store hours are 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. This weekend, look for discounts, food demos and other festivities.

When I visited, things weren’t really set up yet. I went to take a look because the supermarket put out a press release saying that it plans to make its merchandise 25 percent organic. The angle is potentially appealing to people like me, who are wary of “Made in China” edibles because of the country’s poor food production safety record.

“We want it to be the Asian international version of Whole Foods,” said the store’s lovely spokeswoman Li Jing (she has the cutest dimples, by the way).

At the moment, about 60 percent of Sky Foods products are imports from China and Taiwan, with the remainder coming mostly from other Asian countries, according to store publicist Danielle Tin.

Its core organic items will be dry good staples such as crackers and cookies, along with packaged soy milk, dried beans and tofu — which are already available in most Asian supermarkets. The store will also carry organic produce and eggs.

Based on what little I saw, I wonder if Sky Foods is serious about organic:

  • “Pure honey” labels did NOT dominate a display of this product. I spotted several brands of honey where the main ingredients included fructose and maltose — cheap sweet fillers.
  • There will be a bulk foods section featuring “natural” nuts. As serious shoppers know, the term “natural” is completely meaningless. (Click HERE for a glossary of organic-related terms that you can print out and carry around when you go shopping.)
  • The meat section will not carry free-range meat.
  • On the fish front, there was no mention of responsible aquaculture farming. I am also waiting to see if the store will sell shark fins, the highest form of evil Chinese seafood because it involves hacking the fins off of live sharks and throwing them back to drown in the ocean.

I also wonder if Asia shoppers, who are ruthless bargain hunters, will pay the markup on organic. Or, wil Sky Foods significantly beat the prices at Whole Foods, which is rightfully nicknamed “Whole Payheck?” Say tuned.



It was interesting to tour the Sky Foods space. I definitely plan to return after the opening. If you want to see how big bucks Chinese entrepreneurs are investing in the Asian supermarket game, check out both of Flushing’s new big box Asian food outlets.

  • Sky Foods is owned by Chung Fat Supermarket Group, which already has six Chung Fat stores scattered among the Asian nabes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. This new upscale flagship is at Sky View Center, a controversial $1 billion mall with a 2,400-vehicle parking garage (free parking for the first three hours!). This traffic-jammed area is just blocks from Citi Field stadium, home of the New York Mets. The mall opened last fall and now includes Target; Old Navy; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Best Buy; BJ’s Wholesale Club; Bob’s Discount Furniture; Marshalls; Payless Shoes; Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar.
  • As for the competition, JMart opened in May (40-12 Main St.). Located within New World Mall, this 45,000-square-store is even bigger than Sky Foods. It has some parking but relies on foot traffic that is enamoured by its over-the-top, new money China immigrant culture.

The potential Asian supermarket wars have me finally paying attention to Flushing. As a Manhattan snob, I’ve always thought of sprawling, suburbanized Queens as the Land of Ugly. But between its demographics and the fact that my bf lives there (Queens has THE BEST ethnic food), the borough is getting kinda fascinating. So from here on out, I’ll be following local news stories by Flushing Times beat reporter Connor Adams Sheets.

  • Connor recently did a very informative Sky Foods vs. JMart overview piece. He also has written many articles about Sky View Center’s financing issues.
  • I also want to thank friend and ace Times Ledger reporter Ivan Pereira for helping me with this post. He’s one of my former NYU students.  :-)