WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — Tops Friendly Markets here hosted a Halloween Harvest Festival at its stores to celebrate its growing relationships with local farmers. The company has significantly expanded its work with local growers since being sold by Royal Ahold to Morgan Stanley Capital Partners in December 2007, according to Pat Curran, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Tops.
“[After the sale,] we again became a local company with local owners. It was a perfect opportunity for us to position ourselves in our communities in the cities and towns of New York as a merchant who cares about local products, local manufacturers and local farmers,” Curran told SN.
In fact, Tops has increased the number of local growing partners it works with by 40% during the past year and a half, with more than 170 farms and grower cooperatives in western and central New York now supplying fresh produce and other products to the company.
The Halloween Harvest Festival, held on Oct. 24, showcased items including apples, pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, fresh-baked apple and pumpkin pies, and featured family-friendly activities such as Halloween costume contests for customers and associates, in-store trick-or-treating, face painting, pumpkin painting and more.
Local growers were also on hand at many stores to greet customers and talk about their farms. Director of Produce and Floral Sam Qureshi said that Tops has been increasing events like these to give farmers and customers opportunities to interact. Most recently, for two weekends in August, Tops hosted an outdoor farmstand event highlighted by live radio remotes at its stores.
“We've had a very good reaction,” Qureshi said. “Our customers have been telling us that they want to see more local products, especially produce, and we've seen our sales increase over the year. They're not only getting the fresh product, they're getting it at a great price, too. With local products, there's no freight charges because they're bringing them right to our warehouse or our stores. It's a lot less expensive. We've been able to get some really great deals, and pass them along to our customers.”
For example, bargains available during the Harvest Festival included 5-pound bags of locally harvested empire and ginger apples for $2.49.
“It adds to the overall direction we're trying to take,” Qureshi said. “We're trying to tell our customers that we are their source for the freshest produce. By having these events we accentuate that we are in the business of [locally] grown.”
Day-to-day, Tops has begun running photos of local growers and their families in weekly store circulars. Dedicated sections for New York produce have been set up in the stores, and customers can watch each season pass, as items there transition from summer vegetables like corn, zucchini and tomatoes to fall items such as apples, cider and pumpkins. Banners announcing “HomeGrown Freshness” call out the items, and Curran noted that during the summer, produce department associates have been wearing HomeGrown Freshness shirts and hats to call attention to the local products.
“Most people don't think of this when they think of Buffalo and Niagara, but western New York and mid-state New York is a very rich and fertile agricultural area,” said Curran. “It's a very rich part of our culture, and we're doing our job to think local, purchase local and give our customers local products. It's the natural thing to do.”