QUINCY — If you thought this city of about 95,000 couldn’t possibly support another Asian grocer, think again.
This is the big one, folks: 99 Ranch Market is coming to town.
Never heard of it? Think Asian Wegmans.
Based in Buena Park, Calif., 99 Ranch is the nation’s largest Asian grocer, with 52 locations. When the Quincy store opens early next year, it will be the chain’s first outpost in New England, but it probably won’t hold that distinction for long.
Like Wegmans, the 99 stores are big and bright and have a cult-like following. They are known for a wide selection of Asian snacks (like brown sugar boba) and instant noodles (more than 50 kinds).
The company had been looking for a location locally for several months, according to Joseph Lee, its business development director, when it decided to put down roots at the former Big Y site on Hancock Street.
This will be the third supermarket at that address in recent years; before Big Y, there was a Hannaford.
“This was the best location for our target customers,” said Lee, who was at the Quincy site on Wednesday, preparing for its opening. Asian Americans, according to the US Census, account for nearly 30 percent of this city’s population.
Quincy will be the chain’s fifth store on the East Coast, after those in New Jersey and Maryland. Lee told me that 99 Ranch may open a couple more stores in Massachusetts.
The Quincy store is hiring about 100 workers, with recruitment underway. Posters on the building noted that being “Bilingual in Spanish or Chinese is a plus.”
The news of 99 Ranch’s arrival was first reported in The Patriot Ledger.
Anyone familiar with Quincy knows there’s no shortage of places to buy Asian groceries in the city, whether they’re looking for pea pod stems, oyster sauce, or dried shiitake mushrooms.
From the parking lot of the future 99 Ranch you can see another Asian grocer, C-Mart, in the next lot over.
Drive a three-mile stretch of Hancock Street, a main artery, and you can easily find at least four other Asian grocery markets.
Lee is unfazed. “I wouldn’t say we’re not afraid of competition,” he said, “but we will try to do our best to service our customers.”
Across town, Wan Wu, general manager and co-owner of Kam Man Food, has just one question: What took 99 Ranch so long to break into the Boston-area market?
“We expected them to be here much earlier,” said Wu, whose Kam Man market opened in Quincy nearly 18 years ago.
By now, Wu is used to all the competition. A decade ago, H Mart, a major Korean food chain that has its own devotees, opened a giant store in Burlington and then a smaller one in Cambridge. Several years ago, another Asian grocer, Good Fortune Supermarket, opened up across the street from Kam Man in Quincy.
Wu said Kam Man continues to grow and likened the Asian grocery business to the fast-food industry, with Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s all fighting for customers.
He is confident Kam Man can prevail because the store excels at prepared foods: Chinese barbecue, a Hong Kong-style bakery, and a hot bar featuring authentic dishes like stewed beef tendon. Wu said that’s what sets Kam Man apart, beyond just selling the same produce and canned goods. “Our prepared food is our major advantage,” said Wu, adding that you have to hire the right chefs and have the right menu. “You can’t imitate that.”
Wu’s onto something. 99 Ranch is also known for its “hot deli,” featuring Chinese BBQ and dim sum, but Lee said that won’t be coming to the Quincy location for a while, because it’s complicated to set up.
The chain’s biggest challenge will be establishing brand recognition, since most East Coast people don’t know about it, said Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report, a trade publication that covers the grocery and consumer packaged-goods market from Maine to Maryland.
But he doesn’t believe that hurdle will remain for long. “They are in the right spot,” Griffin said of the Quincy site. “They are setting up their tent in the ultimate Asian neighborhood.”
Asian food chains are expanding because they see opportunity. There’s more revenue growth in the ethnic grocery market — about 2 percent annually over the next five years, compared with just 1 percent for the overall supermarket sector, according to the research firm IBISWorld.
One reason: The Hispanic and Asian populations are fast growing, and they tend to eat more often at home than in restaurants, reports IBISWorld. Asian consumers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, spend on average 8.3 percent more on food eaten at home than do others.
Quincy is about to find out if there’s an appetite for more Asian groceries. No doubt the business will get tougher.
One thing’s for sure, points out C-Mart owner Michael Fang, who has two stores in Boston’s Chinatown and one in Quincy:
“It’s only good for the residents. They have more choice.”