It is a food fight that could do a world of good for consumers: Wegmans versus Whole Foods in a battle for supermarket supremacy in the Boston area.
The competition gathered steam Monday, with Wegmans confirming it is in talks to open its first Boston store in the Fenway — at the Landmark Center, a short drive from a new Whole Foods going in on lower Beacon Street in Brookline.
The hot competition between Wegmans, Whole Foods, and several other supermarket chains is a big reversal for many city residents who have endured years of poor or no grocery options in their neighborhoods.
But with Boston growing in population, and more urban consumers craving high-quality foods on the go, upscale grocers in particular are popping up around the city.
“Urban grocery is a big trend right now, and it’s going to continue for at least another year or two,” said Kevin Griffin, publisher of the Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a trade publication.
He said many supermarkets are rediscovering the city after years of building sprawling suburban superstores with giant parking lots.
“The economy is providing some attractive locations in cities that were previously unavailable,” Griffin said.
“It’s ripe ground right now,” he added.
Wegmans Food Markets is building another store on Route 9 in Newton, while Whole Foods Market is adding three others beyond the new Brookline store.
Meanwhile, Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. is planning a store at North Station; Market Basket, which opened a large store in Chelsea, is building another in Revere; Tropical Foods is expanding in Roxbury; and a Foodies just opened in South Boston.
Wegmans, which opened its first Massachusetts store in Northborough two years ago, has developed something of a cult following within the supermarket industry.
The Rochester, N.Y., chain is known for its wide selection of prepared foods and specialty items, along with energetic customer service.
Until recently, it has focused almost exclusively on massive stores that draw customers — and huge numbers of cars — from many miles away. But Wegmans has begun experimenting with smaller stores that can fit in the tighter confines of city neighborhoods.
Wegmans is building a 70,000-square-foot store in Chestnut Hill that is expected to be a model for the new store in the Fenway.
A spokeswoman said Wegmans is still negotiating the Fenway deal with Landmark Center’s owner and cannot provide specifics.
“We anticipate that an acceptable agreement can be reached in the near future,” said Jo Natale, the spokeswoman.
The new owner of the Landmark Center, Steve Samuels, teamed up with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to buy the 1.5 million-square-foot office and retail complex in 2010 and has been working on a redevelopment plan.
Samuels and other developers have already revitalized several large tracts elsewhere in the Fenway with new residential towers and restaurants that have remade the strip’s once-shabby retail profile.
A large modern supermarket would bring another major amenity to the neighborhood, which is also slated to get a Target store.
The pending deal with Wegmans was disclosed Monday by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who cited the grocery chain’s plan as an example of renewed interest in Boston by retailers and other businesses that want to be near the city’s growing population of young workers.
The news set off a social media whirlwind, with Wegmans enthusiasts throwing up posts crowing about the deal on Twitter and Facebook.
“The grocery chains have found that the market in Boston is underserved,” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “The competition is going to be good for consumers, and we’ll see whose brand is victorious.”
The company’s expansion sets up a showdown with Whole Foods, which was the first to set off the footrace in Boston when it opened stores downtown and in Jamaica Plain. Whole Foods is also planning stores in Charlestown, the South End, Brookline, Somerville, and several in nearby suburbs. The company has legions of fans devoted to its eye-catching displays of high-end cuts of fish and meat, cheeses from around the world, prepared foods, and organic produce.
A Fenway store would also put Wegmans near the Shaw’s supermarket at the corner of Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue.
Shaw’s is located in a concrete block of a building and has become increasingly dated in appearance and food selection.
The opening of Wegmans’ 138,000-square-foot Northborough store in 2011 attracted huge crowds, setting a record for the company. Wegmans, which operates 81 stores in six states, is also building a large supermarket in Burlington.
At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event last year, Wegmans’ chief executive, Danny Wegman, said he was fascinated with Greater Boston, which he described as the most highly educated and densely populated market the chain has entered. But the fact that the region was different required the company to tinker with its successful business formula, something Wegman said was unnerving.
“In some ways, coming to Boston is terrifying,” he said. “Going from 130,000 feet to 70,000, you’re making an enormous amount of guesses. This is a big deal for us.”
Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.