Public Property: Specialty Store Debuts Locally Produced Private Label

Public Property: Specialty Store Debuts Locally Produced Private Label

San Francisco specialty store Bi-Rite Market puts a new spin on private label with a full-disclosure product line

It makes sense that a private label created for — and by — the community is marketed under the “Public” brand.

That’s the concept behind a locally produced line that debuted over the summer at Bi-Rite Market, a single-unit San Francisco store, with specialties like Shakirah’s Mixed Berry Jam, made by Shakirah Simley, a Bi-Rite employee who runs her own jamming business; Kohlrabi Kraut, made from Watsonville, Calif.-based Mariquita Farm’s Kohlrabi cabbage and Hollister, Calif.-based Catalan Farm’s red cabbage; and Shakirah’s Strawberry Balsamic Sauce.

Shakirah Simley makes Royal Blenheim Vanilla Apricot Preserves.

“We liked the irony of calling it “Public,” when it’s a private label,” said Kirsten Bourne, marketing director for Bi-Rite Market.

The Public brand is unique in that items are made either from food grown on Bi-Rite’s four-acre farm, or with ingredients from companies with which Bi-Rite has a direct relationship. Products are packaged either at Bi-Rite, or in Bay Area packing kitchens.

“Public stands for what we think a store brand should be, which is a transparent product,” Bourne said. “That means consumers know where and how it was made.”

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Each item has Bi-Rite’s stamp of approval in terms of the ingredients it contains and how it was produced.

“Our store stands behind the recipes and ingredients,” Bourne said.

Labels contain information on the farms that harvested the ingredients, and where the product was packaged.

“We provide as much information as we can to establish a trust among consumers,” she said.

The community even had a hand in naming the line. Bi-Rite received hundreds of responses when it asked shoppers what it should call the line.

“We wanted to name it in a democratic way,” said Bourne. “It’s our way of fully sharing it with everyone.”

Items in the line are made with ingredients from companies with which Bi-Rite has a close working relationship. Partner companies include Mariquita Farms, a small family farm that grows heirloom and specialty vegetables, greens and strawberries; Full Belly Farm, Guinda, Calif., a 300-acre certified organic farm that produces vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers and fruits year-round, and Catalan Farms, a 14-acre farm owned by a former migrant farm worker.

The line caters to those who support small food production companies, as opposed to industrialized farming.

“We’re inspired by the number of people who want  to know about the farmer who grew their food,” said Bourne.

Bi-Rite even hosts farm tours so that shoppers can visit the farms that produce the food in the Public label.

“People crave the  tangibility of picturing a farm, potentially visiting it, and understanding it on a deeper level,” she said.

Public at Large

By the end of this week, there will be a total of 10 items, including pumpkin butter, purple cauliflower and pear butter sold under the Public brand.

This line will eventually include other items, such as a tomato sauce that Bi-Rite makes and jars itself.

In addition to newly created products, Bi-Rite is rebranding its existing store-brand coffee, wine and olive oil under the Public label. The reason for this is that each was produced according to Public’s standards. For instance, Bozzano Olive Ranch, Stockton, Calif., produces Bi-Rite’s olive oil. Bi-Rite has worked with Bozzano’s owner Joe Bozzano for years, and stands behind his oils.

Some of the products contain “gleaned” ingredients. These are excess fruits, vegetables and other crops that farmers can’t sell because of market conditions or other reasons. These ingredients sometimes warrant a new product.

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Public-brand green garlic pesto, for instance, was made with gleaned garlic from Mariquita Farms.

Some products are made in-house while others are produced in partnership with Happy Girl Kitchen and PRESERVEsonoma, an artisan food co-packer.

Happy Girl Kitchen, Pacific Grove, Calif., has a flexible production model with an emphasis on micro-batches. It helps to develop recipes and techniques tailored to Bi-Rite’s taste.

Happy Girl owner Jordan Champagne said the Public brand is a unique line that stands on its own.

“It is driven by Bi-Rite, and the farms that it works with, so it is very personal,” Champagne said.

Sidebar: Scooping Up Sales

The 2,500-square-foot Bi-Rite Market may be small in size, but it’s big on business ventures. Following are two of its other businesses:

• Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop, a freestanding store located near its 18th Street food store. All ice cream is made by hand in small batches. The Straus Family Creamery, located 45 miles away, delivers all of the organic milk, cream and eggs for the ice cream recipes.

• Bi-Rite Farms is a four-acre farm (two acres of which are being farmed) in Sonoma. It is used to grow produce, and raise pigs and cows. Bi-Rite’s shelves are stocked with the farm’s apples, tomatoes, peppers, figs, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuces and more.

Sidebar: Public’s Presence

Bi-Rite Market’s current and future Public-brand offering includes:

• Spiced Bartlett Pear Butter

• Vanilla Bourbon Pumpkin Butter

• Rustic San Marzano Tomato Sauce

• White Pluot Jam

• Rustic Peach Conserve

• Albion Strawberry Jam

• Summer Berry Jam

• Green Garlic Pesto

• Pickled Green Garlic

• Pickled Purple Cauliflower and Baby Carrots

• Pickled Cheddar Cauliflower and Rainbow Carrots

• Kohlrabi Kraut

• Royal Blenheim Vanilla Bean Apricot Preserves

Sidebar: Farm Aid

San Francisco-based Bi-Rite partners with a number of local farms for its Public label brand. Following is a list:

• Mariquita Farms, Watsonville, Calif., is a small family farm that grows heirloom and specialty vegetables, greens, strawberries and herbs for Community Supported Agriculture members.

Labels contain the names of farms that harvested ingredients and other info.

• Full Belly Farm, Guinda, Calif., is a 300-acre certified organic farm that produces vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers and fruits year-round.

• Catalan Farms, Hollister, Calif., is a 14-acre farm that produces a variety of fruits and  vegetables, including apples, green beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cherries, corn and potatoes. It is owned by Maria Catalan, who is one of the first Latina migrant farm laborers in the U.S. to become a farm owner.

• Oak Hill Farms, Glen Ellen, Calif., is a 45-acre farm that grows more than 200 varieties of flowers, shrubs, orchard fruit, herbs, and field-grown fruits and vegetables. 

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