EUGENE, Ore. — Providing healthy choices these days also means offering a range of items produced by nearby farmers and manufacturers. That's why Market of Choice also includes a large selection of local and seasonal products, from fresh market favorites like Lochmead Farms milk from nearby Junction City, to Painted Hills beef raised just over 100 miles to the northeast in Fossil. In the grocery department, artisan selections like Sweet Home Farm granola, made right here in Eugene, are stocked alongside national brands.
“There aren't many local artisan manufacturers around here that we don't carry,” said Rick Wright, Market of Choice's president.
At the front of the produce section, a signboard displays rows of tags indicating which items are grown locally. On a recent Friday morning, the list included spinach, kale, basil, mushrooms, chard, watermelon, zucchini and squash, among others. Gene Versteeg, the chain's produce buyer, said he does business with hundreds of local growers, many of whom will pick and deliver their crops on the same day, directly to individual stores.
Working with this many vendors can be a headache. It's hard to coordinate so many schedules, Versteeg said, and the crop quality and output are difficult to predict.
“Maybe the green bean guy can only come up with three cases and you need 10,” he explained.
And sometimes there can be too much of a certain crop, like earlier this year when Versteeg had to turn away blueberry growers, many of whom started growing in response to a shortage the previous year.
But the payoff is unparalleled freshness that will keep customers coming back. Versteeg offered this example of a typical corn delivery:
“The grower calls up the produce manager early, at 6 o'clock in the morning, and asks, ‘How much do you want today?’ And the manager might say 10 cases. The grower sends those pickers out, picks 10 cases of corn, then drives it out here and it's on the shelf by 10 in the morning after being in the field three hours earlier. We'll put that corn on the shelf, and it's still warm from the sun shining on it.”
It doesn't hurt, of course, that Market of Choice operates in a hot spot for local products. There's high demand from consumers in the region.
“This is a great area for little cottage industries to start up,” said Duran Taylor, Market of Choice's natural and organic grocery buyer. “If we like it here, people are going to like it in a lot of other places too.”
But even with the luxury of high demand, the company still has to work hard to coordinate all the moving parts and give customers what they want.
In addition, Wright said, there's the matter of defining local, of constantly measuring the company's mission to source sustainably and support the community.
“We even struggle with considering whether something grown in Portland” — just over 100 miles away — “should be considered local,” said Wright.
This article is an excerpt from an award profile of Market of Choice that appeared in SN Whole Health.