Food for thought

At Colony Plaza, where Hughes market has now turned into Ralphs — although the sign still says Hughes — life is not a bowl of cherries. As far as many longtime shoppers are concerned, it’s the pits.

“They changed the way they price things. You never know what you’re paying until you get up there,” claimed Cindy Doderlein of the new Ralphs Card pricing system. “It’s really annoying.”

Other customers were even more direct. “It sucks,” said a shopper who identified himself as David. “This was always a community market. Now, it’s just like this big, cold corporation. It’s not the same vibe.”

Manager Lee Ford has found himself in the unpleasant position of trying to please the new owners while keeping old customers happy. Pricing and selection have been common complaints, but as Ford points out, “Hughes had prices go up and down every week, too. I think some people are just a little bit more sensitive.”

One woman who has been shopping at Hughes for nine years said she has noticed a big difference. “They’ve switched brands. There are a lot of things you can’t find any longer and there are a lot of things I don’t want.” The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she does most of her shopping in Santa Monica and in the Valley these days. She was quick to add that the transition must be tough for Ford, who is “just trying to keep his job.”

Ralphs spokesman Terry O’Neil said the corporation’s main office determines which items its stores will carry. If a product is no longer available in Malibu, it is because it is not carried at the company warehouse. That, in itself, is a big change from Hughes, where buying and selection could be customized for the local community.

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Ford says he is doing his best to turn things around. “Initially, they took out some specialty items, but I’m trying to get some of those back.”

Even though some specific brands can be special ordered, a lot of folks still have a beef with the beef. At Pacific Coast Greens, Stephen Mitchell says new customers are coming in every day because they are unhappy with the selection down the street. “Hughes had a pretty good fish department. They had the same supplier we did. Now, it all comes from the warehouse.”

Other complaints have centered on certain bakery items, house brands and organic produce. Since P. C. Greens specializes in all things natural, Mitchell couldn’t be happier. “I’m thrilled,” he said. “People are discovering us as an alternative. I think it’s been a long time coming.”

While Ralphs is encouraging its Malibu customers to provide feedback, major changes seem unlikely. For some shoppers, the switch to corporate culture has been tough to swallow. “Hughes did a good job. The morale was good. It was fun to shop here.” said David. “This place is just not happening.”

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