Midwestern retailer Fareway Stores Inc. has always been fortunate when it comes to local, says Jeff Cook, vice president of market operations for the 123-store chain.
That’s because Fareway is headquartered in Boone, Iowa, the heart of U.S. meat production. Fareway has hung its hat on locally-produced meat for decades.
“We’re lucky where we’re located in upper Midwest, where some of the world’s best beef and pork are produced,” he says. “Almost everything is local. Our national suppliers are right in our backyards — we’re within 75 or 100 miles of their plants.”
In the past, Fareway was more low-key about emphasizing the sources of its products. Now the chain is focused on being more aggressive, with the hiring of a social media manager and a boost in digital instore signage among the efforts in that direction.
Fortunately, being located where they are, Fareway stores have an easier time getting that local message across — at least comparatively.
“You get to the coasts, a lot of consumers aren’t sure where their beef and pork are coming from,” Cook says. “We need to devote more information to training, pamphlets, etc. Here in the Midwest, people have more direct relations to the agriculture industry.”
Fareway distributes its locally and regionally grown beef and pork products from its central warehouse in Boone and partners with plants in Omaha and Dakota City for beef and Dennison, Storm Lake and Waterloo for pork.
The chain’s latest partnership is with Comfrey Farms in southwest Minnesota, a pork operation founded by Minnesota Timberwolves owner and billionaire businessman Glen Taylor.
Fareway first launched its branded duroc pork program using Comfrey product in 16 of its 123 stores. It’s since expanded to 34, Cook says. Comfrey Farms sources its heritage pork from multi-generational family farms, which fits right in with Fareway’s commitment to local.
“We’re hopefully helping these generational farms to stay in the family and actually expand,” Cook says.
Before the partnership was sealed, every one of Fareway’s management teams from its different stores went to Comfrey Farms and toured the processing facility and met with the family farmers who raised the hogs, Cook says.
Old-fashioned face-to-face meetings with one’s grower and producer partners can’t be beat, but Fareway also relies on more modern techniques to strengthen its ties to local producers and to get the local message across to its customers.
The chain is now in the process of adding digital TV screens to the meat departments of all of its stores, Cook says. To date, 68 have been installed. The screens include a ton of product info, which Cook says will hopefully spur discussions between customer and clerk, which gets to the heart of the Fareway experience.
“We don’t’ have a lot of pre-packaged meats — we have full-service counters, anywhere from 28- to 60-foot meat counters,” he says. “Almost every customer is having one-on-one contact with one of our employees.”
Fareway’s best asset, Cook says, is its employees, which is crucial when it comes to educating consumers about the value of locally-grown.
Fareway also gets the word out about local via its partnerships with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Beef Council and other industry associations. In one popular effort, the chain wraps its trailers with graphics supporting local farmers. One, launched in May 2018, features a Winterset, Iowa, beef farmer.
“We like to help create commercials that aren’t directed to products but directed to themes,” Cook says. “We love to support the local beef and hog farmers. It’s a rolling billboard as it goes down interstate, telling customers that we’re supporting our local agriculture.”
At Kroger, local suppliers make their case
The Kroger Co. connects local and small-business suppliers through a dedicated website, Kroger.com/WeAreLocal.
Through the site, local farmers, ranchers and other food and beverage producers are invited to connect with Kroger and make their case for supplying stores in the Cincinnati-based chain.
“At Kroger, we make it a priority to source locally — after all, it’s important to support our neighbors, and sourcing locally gives us some of the freshest produce, meat and seafood possible,” according to the company. “Plus, we recognize that every community has tastes and products that are unique to their region. We make sure we stock local items that are meaningful to our customers. It’s an easy way to make a connection, and also help the local economy.”
"Kroger has always had a commitment to supporting small-business owners and local vendors," says Mike Donnelly, Kroger's executive vice president of merchandising and procurement. "Our business has a track record of successfully blending centralized and decentralized decision making to promote local products while also enjoying economies of scale. Since Kroger's day one, we have had a longstanding, 365-day-a-year commitment to support and source from local farmers, ranchers, food producers, wineries, breweries and product makers. There are tastes and products that are unique to every region."
Kroger currently sources from thousands of local suppliers today, and its team of buyers continuously look for opportunities to purchase regionally that allow the company to expand its product portfolio for customers, stimulate the local economy and enhance product freshness.