Good Food at Retail
Three very different retail operations explain how and why they work to get more local/regional food on to their shelves.
Getting more good food into retail is a priority. According to USDA-ERS over 90% of the food that Americans consume at home is purchased at retail outlets.
In this webinar: the details on innovative approaches to getting more good food into retail channels of very different kinds, including a mid-size regional retail chain (200 stores), a three-store cooperative and a WIC-only store. We cover topics such as: making connections with local producers and cooperatives, food safety, challenges in starting programs and how our panelists have overcome them, marketing good food in the store, and metrics for measuring success.
Moderator: Warren King, Principal, WellSpring LTD
Panelists: Vanessa Zajfen, Center for Food Justice Occidental College; Ruffin Slater, Weaver Street Market Coop; Mike Orf, Hy-Vee, Inc.
In-Webinar Written Transcript
Q: How did you get the WIC only corner stores to ""buy in"" to the program, given the challenges (no refrigeration units etc). Was there grant funding to get infrastructure?
A: I think it’s the marketing and outreach campaign attached...we pitched it to them as a broader package that would bring them new customers, appeal to their current consumers and of course we do support them in creating partnerships with farmers, the state HOTM [Harvest of the Month] program, pay for materials etc.
Q: What processing does this program do? Vanessa mentioned taking the food to processors and then picking it up. Does she mean packing/packaging?
A: Yes, they need to go into some type of bag unless it is a melon or thick rind fruit. No cutting or such processing. This is a store requirement.
Q: What percentage of your total food sales can be from local sources?
A: For Weaver Street Market, it's currently about 1/3 local. Not sure what the potential is, but there is a lot more that we can do.
Q: For Vanessa: How do you verify growers from resellers?
A: We talk to them directly and/or we know them through other work. If the farmers want us to buy from the Terminal market we do so because they asked us to.
Q: What is the WIC voucher dollar value in your state?
A: I believe 6, 8, 10 and 15 dollars for FFV.
Q: Is everyone set up for EBT?
A: I believe that the WIC-Only stores I am working with do not accept EBT as WIC Vouchers and EBT are two totally different payment systems, however some stores might
Q: Question for Vanessa: This is a great model for the goals and situation you have. I'm wondering what kind of lessons or tips you think can be drawn from this example for people who are interested in selling multiple produce items through WIC-certified markets, since so many groups are looking at how to make that work.
A: Great Q and we hope to look at these issues in LA with FM and smaller WIC vendors....maybe we can talk about it in the near future.
Q: For Ruffin: does buying local products (ingredients) for the 'Food House' prove to be cost-effective and economical - or is it based on principle?
A: It's less economical to buy local. Food service ingredients are typically purchases on lowest price, so most of what's available is based on price. For example, we buy local organic flour for about 70 cents/lb; whereas commodity flour is about 20 cents.
Q: Just a clarifying question for Vanessa: is Harvest of the Month an already established program in California?
A: Yes, the state developed it and it is used in schools and limited retail settings.
Q: Vanessa: how have you gone about interesting farmers in selling to retail? My thought would be that they would express some reluctance due to the likelihood of earning a smaller profit margin.
A: The farmers are of a larger scale and thus have and/or want a variety of sales outlets for their food. For example with the Peaches we bought them direct from the grower and picked up at his farm and therefore he did not have to sell them at the terminal market which saved him taxes on each box sold and ultimately allowed him to save money
Q: for Ruffin: Does Weaver Street have any official outreach efforts in place to tap into the large UNC student body population?
A: Not really. We probably should though.
Q: for Ruffin: do you require/recommend co-op members to work/volunteer any hours per month in order to maintain their membership?
A: We have the option to volunteer three hours per week for a discount, but it is not a requirement.
Q: What kind of processing is being done to fresh whole products and why?
A: We packaged the products into bags, no cutting or such light processing, we just need to get them into bags.
Q: For Vanessa: How do the four pilot stores afford to pay for the food but then "give it away"?
A: It is a promotion just like one you might find at Ralphs or other larger stores. It is part of their marketing campaigns and factored into operations.
A: To follow up with that and answer ‘how can they afford to give away food,’ these stores are not small corner stores they are pretty sophisticated stores with decent marketing budgets
Q: How big are your stores? (How many square ft?)
A: Two of our stores are 12,000 sq-ft., and the other is 6,000.
Q: For Ruffin: Do you purchase produce from individual farmers, or is there is a local farmer co-op and or distributor who carries local foods that you purchase from. additionally what kinds of certification requirements do you have for growing standards, food safety, GAP?
A: Will get to food safety question at end for all panelists [Please watch the recording for this information – ed.]
Q: For Ruffin: do you purchase your produce through contracts with the farmers in the beginning of the season or monthly/weekly as the season moves along?
A: We make arrangement with the farmers in the winter for the coming season, but we don't have formal contracts.
Q: For Mike Orf: Are there plans and or interest to expand hyvee's local purchasing/stocking beyond produce and into other categories?
A: This touches all areas of our purchasing dept currently.