Chief Operating Officer at Dollar General
Thank you, John. Let me take the next few minutes to update you on our operating priorities and strategic initiatives. Our first operating priority is driving profitable sales growth. The team did a great job this quarter, executing against a robust portfolio of growth initiatives.
Let me highlight some of our more recent efforts. Starting with our non-consumables initiative or NCI. The NCI offering was available in nearly 11,000 stores at the end of Q3, and we continue to be very pleased with the strong performance we are seeing across our NCI store base. Notably, this performance is contributing an incremental 2.5% total comp sales increase on average in NCI stores along with a meaningful improvement in gross margin rate, as compared to stores without the NCI offering.
Overall, we now plan to expand this offering to a total of more than 11,500 stores by year-end, including over 2,000 stores in our light version. And we expect to complete the rollout of NCI across nearly the entire chain by year-end 2022.
Moving to our pOpshelf concept, which further builds on our success and learnings with NCI. pOpshelf aims to engage customers by offering a fun, affordable and differentiated treasure hunt experience, delivered through continually refreshed merchandise, a unique in-store experience and exceptional value with the vast majority of our items priced at $5 or less.
During the quarter we added 14 new pOpshelf locations, bringing the total number of stores to 30. Opened our first 14 store within a store concepts and celebrated the one-year anniversary of our first pOpshelf store opening. For 2021, we remain on track to have a total of up to 50 pOpshelf locations by year-end, as well as up to an additional 25 store with an in-store concepts, which incorporate a smaller footprint pOpshelf shop into one of our larger format Dollar General market stores.
Importantly, as Todd noted earlier, we continue to be very pleased with the performance of our pOpshelf stores, which have far exceeded our expectations for both sales and gross margin. In fact, we anticipate year one annualized sales volumes for our current locations to be between $1.7 million and $2 million per store and expect the initial average gross margin rate for these stores to exceed 40%. We believe this bodes well for the future as we move towards our goal of about 1,000 pOpshelf locations by year-end 2025.
Turning now to DG Fresh, which is a strategic multiphase shift to self-distribution of frozen and refrigerated goods. As a reminder, we completed the initial rollout of DG Fresh across the entire chain in Q2, and are now delivering to more than 18,000 stores from 12 facilities. The primary objective of DG Fresh is to reduce product costs on our frozen and refrigerated items. And we continue to be very pleased with the savings we are seeing as DG Fresh remains a meaningful contributor to our gross margin rate.
Another goal of DG Fresh is to increase sales in these categories. And we are very happy with the performance on this front, as overall comp sales of our frozen and refrigerated goods outperformed all other product categories in Q3, even against a difficult prior year sales comparison.
Going forward, we expect to realize additional benefits from DG Fresh, as we continue to optimize our network, further leverage our scale, deliver an even wider product selection and build on our multi-year track record of growth in cooler doors and associated sales. With regards to our cooler expansion program, during the first three quarters we added more than 52,000 cooler doors across our store base. In total, we expect to install approximately 65,000 additional cooler doors in 2021. The majority of which will be in high capacity coolers.
Turning now to an update on our expanded health offering, which consist of about 30% more feet of selling space and nearly 400 additional items, as compared to our standard offering. This offering was available in nearly 800 stores at the end of Q3, with plans to expand to approximately 1,000 stores by year-end. Looking ahead, our plans include further expansion of our health offering, with the goal of increasing access to basic healthcare products and ultimately services overtime, particularly in rural America.
In addition to the gross margin benefits associated with the initiatives I just discussed, we continue to pursue other opportunities to enhance gross margin, including improvements in private brand sales, global sourcing, supply chain efficiencies and shrink.
Our second priority is capturing growth opportunities. We recently celebrated a significant milestone with the opening of our 18,000 stores, which reflects the fantastic work of our best-in-class real estate team, as we continue to expand our footprint and further enhance our ability to serve additional customers. Through the first three quarters, we completed a total of 2,386 real estate projects, including 798 new stores, 1,506 remodels and 82 relocations.
For 2021, we remain on track to open 1,050 new stores, remodel 1,750 stores and relocate 100 stores, representing 2,900 real estate projects in total. In addition, we now have produce in approximately 1,900 stores with plans to expand this offering to a total of over 2,000 stores by year-end.
For 2022 we plan to execute 2,980 real estate projects in total, including 1,110 new stores, 1,750 remodels and 120 store relocations. We also plan to add produce and approximately 1,000 additional stores next year with the goal of ultimately expanding this offering to a total of up to 10,000 stores over time.
Of note, we expect approximately 800 of our new stores in 2022 to be in our larger 8,500 square foot new store prototype, allowing for a more optimal assortment and room to accommodate future growth. Importantly, we continue to be very pleased with the sales productivity of this larger format, as average sales per square foot continue to trend about 15% above an average traditional store. Our 2022, real estate plans also include opening approximately 100 additional pOpshelf locations, bringing the total number of pOpshelf stores to about 150 by year-end, as well as, up to an additional 25 store with in-store concept.
As Todd noted, we are also very excited about our plans to expand our footprint internationally for the first time, with plans to open up to 10 stores in Mexico by year-end 2022. As we look to extend our value and convenience offering to even more communities, while continuing to lay the foundation for future growth. Overall, our proven high-return, low-risk real estate model continues to be a core strength of our business. And the good news is, we believe we still have a long runway for new unit growth ahead of us.
In fact, across our Dollar General, pOpshelf and DGX format types, we estimate there are approximately 17,000 new store opportunities potentially available in the Continental United States alone. Although, these opportunities available to all small box retailers, we expect to continue capturing a disproportionate share as we move forward. And while still early, we expect our entry into Mexico will ultimately unlock a significant number of additional new unit opportunities in the years to come. When taken together, our real estate pipeline remains robust and we are excited about the significant new store opportunities ahead.
Next, our digital initiative, which is an important complement to our physical store footprint, as we continue to deploy and leverage technology to further enhance convenience and access for our customers. Our efforts remain centered around building engagement across our digital properties, including our mobile app. Of note, we ended Q3 with over 4.4 million monthly active users on the app, and expect this number to grow as we look to further enhance our digital offerings.
As Todd noted, our partnership with DoorDash is another example of meeting the evolving needs of our customers, by providing the savings offered by Dollar General, combined with the convenience of same-day delivery in an hour or less. And while still early, we are pleased with the initial results, including better-than-expected customer trial, strong repurchase rates, high levels of sales incrementality and a broadening of our customer base.
Our DG Media Network, which we launched in 2018 is also seeing strong results, including significant growth in the number of campaigns on our platform. Overall, we remain very excited about the long-term growth potential of this business. And we look to better connect our brand partners with our customers in a way that is accretive to the customer experience. Going forward, our plans include providing more relevant, meaningful and personalized offerings, with the goal of driving even higher levels of customer engagement across our digital ecosystem.
Our third operating priority is to leverage and reinforce our position as a low-cost operator. We have a clear and defined process to control spending, which continues to govern our disciplined approach to spending decisions. This zero based budgeting approach internally branded as safe to serve, keeps the customer at the center of all we do, while reinforcing our cost control mindset.
Our Fast Track initiative is a great example of this approach, where our goals include, increasing labor productivity in our stores, enhancing customer convenience and further improving on-shelf availability. The first phase of Fast Track consisted of both rolltainer and case pack optimization, which has led to the more efficient stocking of our stores. The second component of Fast Track is self-checkout, which provides customers with another flexible and convenient checkout solution, while also driving greater efficiencies for our store associates.
Looking ahead, our plans now include expanding this offering to over 6,000 stores by year-end 2021, and to the majority of our store base by the end of 2022, as we look to further extend our position as an innovative leader in small box discount retail. Our underlying principles are to keep the business simple, but move quickly to capture growth opportunities, while controlling expenses and always seeking to be a low-cost operator.
Our fourth operating priority is investing in our diverse teams through development, empowerment and inclusion. As a growing retailer, we continue to create new jobs in the communities we serve. As evidenced in 2022, we plan to create more than 8,000 net new jobs. In addition, our growth also fosters an environment where employees have opportunities to advance to roles with increasing levels of responsibility and meaningful wage growth in a relatively short timeframe. In fact, over 75% of our store associates at/or above the lead sales associate position were internally placed. And we continue to innovate on the development opportunities we offer our teams.
Importantly, we believe these efforts continue to yield positive results across our store base, as evidenced by our robust promotion pipeline, healthy applicant flows and staffing above traditional levels. We believe the opportunity to start and develop a career with a growing and purpose-driven company is a unique competitive advantage and remains our greatest currency in attracting and retaining talent.
We also recently completed our annual community giving campaign, where our employees came together to raise funds for a variety of important causes. And I was once again inspired by the generosity and compassion of our people. Our mission of serving others is deeply embedded in the daily culture of Dollar General. And I'm so proud to be a part of such an incredible team.
In closing, we are making great progress against our operating priorities and strategic initiatives. And with the actions and multi-year initiatives we have in place, we are confident in our plans to drive long-term sustainable growth and shareholder value creation. As we are in the midst of a truly unique and busy holiday season, I want to offer my sincere thanks to each of our more than 162,000 employees across the company for their hard work and dedication to fulfilling our mission of serving others.
With that, operator, we would now like to open the lines for questions.