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Independents Promote Local Product as Differentiator

LAS VEGAS — Offering products that are grown or made locally can help differentiate independents while stimulating the local economy, retailers told a workshop session during the 30th annual convention of the National Grocers Association here.

“Companies like Kroger and Wal-Mart can try to buy local, but the independent operator should be able to do a much better job and succeed, without question,” Mike Needler Jr., president and chief executive officer of Fresh Encounter Community Market, Findlay, Ohio, said.

“For an independent, selling local products is a good example of a straight line from grower to seller.”

Fresh Encounter didn’t begin promoting the fact it was selling local products until recently, he noted, with the chain’s ads now listing the number of local companies whose items are featured.

From left: Carl Day, Mike Beal and Mike Needler Jr.
From left: Carl Day, Mike Beal and Mike Needler Jr.

Needler said the company buys enough quantity for its 29 stores “to make it worth the farmer’s time to deliver to us, and we use local products to build secondary displays.”

Mike Beal, vice president and chief financial officer for Ball's Markets, Kansas City, Kan., said getting products from farm to store is one of the main issues in buying locally.

“That’s often the Achilles heel in the process because wholesalers don’t want to deal with it,” Beal said, “so we pick it up in our own trucks and distribute it from a small grocery warehouse we have, which features about 15,000 square feet or so of coolers and ripening rooms.”

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Balls buys from about 150 farmers and suppliers within a 200-mile radius of its home market, “and it’s a big part of our differentiation,” he said.

“And customers know buying local is important not only for the stomach but also for the economy,” he added, noting his company sold just under $5 million in local products last year.

Carl Day, owner of Day’s Market, a two-store operator based in Provo, Utah, said it’s important for him to sell local goods “because when we buy from local companies, they employ local people, and that helps support the local economy. And if the local companies buy the supplies they need from us, then the benefits work both ways.”

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