Fresh Approach

January 8, 2009
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The Fresh Market puts the emphasis on quality perishable items, an upscale look and feel, and strong customer service. And its private label program addresses the wants and needs of its food-savvy shoppers.

A leisurely stroll through one of The Fresh Market’s stores reveals the stuff foodie dreams are made of. From the “weekly specials” lovingly handwritten on a blackboard by the entranceway, to the beautiful (and roomy) produce department (complete with product origin signage for every single fruit and veggie), to the variable-weight bagged spices nestled into cubby holes in an end cap - the store seems to encourage the gourmand inside all of us.

Specialty bulk areas within each softly lit store are plentiful, and encourage shoppers to try something new - whether that’s a gourmet coffee, a custom nut and fruit mix, or an antipasto assortment. Baskets of all shapes and sizes, too, are seemingly everywhere - serving as an attractive and convenient means to cross-merchandise numerous food products.

An impressive “Old World Butcher” shop, meanwhile, serves up a wide range of meat, poultry and seafood, all from a well-staffed back counter that spans almost the entire width of the store. Close by, shoppers will find freshly baked breads and artisan-style desserts in a full-service bakery.

But it’s the massive “European Delicatessen” that really stops first-time browsers in their tracks. Situated toward the center of the store, the four-sided super-deli offers everything from ready-to-serve rotisserie chickens (in flavors such as White Wine & Herb and Lemon Rosemary) to gourmet pizza, artisan pasta and more than 200 varieties of imported and domestic cheese. And shoppers won’t have to wait long to be served here - during PL Buyer’s late November visit to The Fresh Market’s Kildeer, Ill., location, several store employees eagerly offered their assistance as we made our way around the rectangular deli.

What you won’t find at any of The Fresh Market’s stores is a large selection of health and beauty or cleaning products, or a vast frozen foods department. But even the smallish frozen foods section is expectedly full of high-end products - and is targeted by the company to further develop private label sales as well.

Since Ray and Beverly Berry opened the first Fresh Market store in Greensboro, N.C. (in 1982), the emphasis has been on fresh products - married, of course, with high quality, a warm and upscale look and feel, and top-notch customer service.

And that emphasis appears to be working. The Fresh Market now has 86 stores in 18 states. According to Marius Andersen, senior vice president of merchandising and marketing, the company continues to grow at an average rate of 15 to 20 percent per year. Moreover, The Fresh Market’s expanding array of private label products represents a critical part of the company’s growth strategy moving forward.

Two Niches

At its core, The Fresh Market’s philosophy for private label development is as unique as its stores are. The company views private label in the context of its overall brand development strategy, Andersen explains.

“Instead of considering the program a traditional margin enhancement initiative, we employ it as a vehicle for building and supporting The Fresh Market brand,” he says. “In doing so, we have been able to develop a trusting relationship with our customers, who know that if we are willing to put our name on it - in essence, give it our stamp of approval - then it has to be a great product.”

The Fresh Market approaches private label in the same way it approaches everything else in the store, adds Marc Jones, vice president of merchandising, non-perishables.

“We search for the best products based on taste and value, edit the selection and bring it to our customers in a fun and friendly way,” he says. “Private label products are important to our overall business in two ways: through quality and value, and through uniqueness and loyalty.”

On one hand, the company has targeted commodity products (such as its Jersey Cow Milk) for which it can provide above-average quality at competitive price points, Andersen says.

“On the other hand, we have chosen to market private label products with unique attributes that are often from small suppliers, are not available elsewhere and contribute to the overall experience, such as our Armenian Apricot Jam and our Honey Jellies, he says.

Ideas for new products come from several key areas, Jones says, including internal and external data analyses to identify opportunities, customer requests, store manager feedback and even successful existing programs (for line extension contenders). And The Fresh Market is always on the lookout for new and unique items and flavors, he adds - a fact that meshes well with its reputation as an “out-of-the-ordinary food destination store” for people who really enjoy cooking and eating good foods.

No matter which niche the company is targeting, it relies on a very detailed new product development process, notes Jennifer Oas, private label manager.

“We put a tremendous amount of time into product specifications and profile selection and strive for the right flavor profile on every item we develop,” she says. “The product has to have the right taste and quality for the price point. We taste everything to make sure it will meet the high standards our customers have come to expect at The Fresh Market.”

To locate manufacturers up to the task, The Fresh Market approaches some suppliers directly, but also relies on its partner, Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide, Jones says.

“We then send suppliers our initial request for information, which includes a brief overview of our philosophy,” he says. “Once we narrow the supplier list down to identify the top two or three suppliers we think can meet our expectations, we get into more specific conversations about product profiles and specifications, pricing, quality assurance, packaging and design.”

The Fresh Market team also likes to visit the manufacturing facilities and meet suppliers’ quality assurance and product development teams face to face whenever possible, Jones adds.

Once the team agrees on a supplier and a product’s final specifications, Oas says, the company begins the label development process.

“Our labels need to convey the product quality and attributes from a look, feel, taste and nutritional perspective,” she says. “People have very deep relationships with their food, and we try to connect with our customers in a fun and emotionally relevant way. Moreover, we try to consider traditional and non-traditional uses for the products and include ideas and suggestions on our labels with recipes and other informational copy.”

Oas points to The Fresh Market Jersey Milk line and The Fresh Market Spice Rubs and Grinders as two extremely successful company lines that resulted from the team’s product development process.

Jersey Milk products are richer and creamier than “regular” milk, and Jersey cows naturally produce milk with slightly greater amounts of protein and calcium. The milk is available in Whole, 2%, Skim, Chocolate, Half & Half and Whipping Cream varieties, as well as seasonal selections such as Double Cream White Chocolate and Eggnog.

“We took a commodity and made it more interesting and relevant to consumers looking for healthy products,” Oas says. “By using a high-quality milk produced from cows not treated with rBST, and packaging it in glass like the classic ‘milkman’ bottles from the 1940s, we were able to communicate good nutrition, recyclable and/or reusable bottles, and old-fashioned wholesomeness while remaining price competitive.”

And the rubs really help to spice up the cooking process, Oas says, while boasting packaging that customers simply love.

Among the newest private label launches from this exciting retailer are 100% Fresh-Pressed Apple Juice (made from USA-grown apples), Applesauce, European Sodas, Balsamic Vinegar, Mulling Spices, Turkey and Meat Brining Blends, Oatmeal, Jersey Milk Eggnog, Refrigerated Dips and Canned Tomatoes, Beans and Vegetables.

Three other recent company launches were honored in PL Buyer’s 2008 Private Label Packaging Awards contest. (See the sidebar, this page.)

With results like that, it should come as no surprise that packaging plays a huge role in The Fresh Market’s private label strategy.

“The visual impact of our stores is part of The Fresh Market experience, so naturally our labeling for The Fresh Market brand is part of that,” Oas says. “We work closely with our design partners at Daymon Worldwide Design, and we also have an extremely talented internal team that has done much of the creative work for our packaging. In fact, a majority of our packaging design is now being done in-house.”

For packaging “inspiration,” The Fresh Market relies on outside sources - not only from the food industry, but also from the health and beauty care sector, Oas says.

“We strive to have unique, creative and visually appealing packaging that communicates the feel, taste and uses of the product inside,” she stresses.

Personal Touch

Although The Fresh Market did not disclose a private label penetration goal, Andersen says the company plans to continue with its current strategy of offering customers both high-quality commodity products at competitive prices, as well as unique and exceptional selections that support the aspirational qualities of The Fresh Market brand. Moreover, the company’s unique in-store support will be a key part of private label growth, he adds.

“Our store managers and store staff are all dedicated to our brand, and they share our enthusiasm in bringing our products to customers through large displays, countertop merchandising and suggestive sales,” Andersen says. “As for the overall mix, we offer private label only when it offers something better to both our customers and to The Fresh Market.”

During PL Buyer’s recent visit to the Kildeer location, creative cross-merchandising related to private label products was evident throughout the store. One end cap, for example, combined The Fresh Market Fresh-Pressed Apple Juice and Applesauce products with bagged variable-weight fresh cinnamon sticks. And a large basket right next to the day’s freshly baked breads offered up The Fresh Market Honey Jellies - in Rosemary Balsamic and Orange Blossom flavors - as tasty topping temptations.

Each store’s relatively small grocery footprint (20,000 square feet) also is an advantage in terms of getting the private label message out, Jones notes.

“The smaller footprint necessitates greater selectivity and allows for more personal interaction between store staff and customers,” Jones says. “We are not ‘me too’ with our brand - in many cases, we offer private label instead of other brands, not along with them.”

Because The Fresh Market’s shoppers tend to be food-savvy and well-educated, Andersen says, they also are inclined to be more engaged in - and vocal about - what products they want to see in the stores and under the chain’s own label.

For that reason and many others, private label development represents a fun and exciting area at The Fresh Market.

“Our team enjoys the sense of discovery and the quest for new and interesting products, and we are lucky to have partners who feel the same way we do,” Jones says. “We wouldn’t have the program we have today without partners like Daymon Worldwide and the many manufacturers who have shared the experience of discovering and producing unique and exciting private label products,” he adds. PLB

Sidebar: Good Looks and More

PL Buyer’s 6th Annual Private Label Packaging Awards competition, held this past fall, ultimately honored 18 products out of 300-plus entries from dozens of retailers, based on the packaging’s overall good looks, innovation quotient and functionality. Amazingly, three of the winning products for 2008 were from one retailer: The Fresh Market.

Taking top packaging honors were:


The Fresh Market Mango Coconut Pepper Sauce: “A really good use of billboard space,” one packaging awards judge said.

The Fresh Market Mints: “It looks kind of retro with the cool colors,” another judge remarked.

Fresh Market Curd, Jelly, Butter and Chutney line: “The graphics are fairly sophis-ticated, and it’s a good choice of what undoubtedly is a stock container,” another judge added.

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