Through early next year, The Kroger Co. plans to roll out new deli, meal and center-store items from new food vendors selected by its Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator business incubator.
The first five suppliers in the Go Fresh & Local program, announced in May, are Maazah, Nona Lim, Queen Charlotte's Pimento Cheese Royale, Simply Southern Sides and Soupergirl, Cincinnati-based Kroger said Thursday. Plans call for the companies’ products to hit supermarket shelves by the first quarter of 2022. Each of the vendors also will receive business development coaching and collaboration opportunities to help drive expansion.
“We invented the Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator to discover the best, most innovative, and freshest local and regional products, and our group of winners is just that,” Dan De La Rosa, group vice president of fresh merchandising at Kroger, said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with these extraordinary suppliers to bring exciting new products to our stores across the country and introduce customers to more locally made favorites.”
A women-owned brand, Minneapolis-based Maazah produces an Afghan-style chutney made of fresh cilantro, ginger, garlic, lemon, apple cider vinegar and jalapeno pepper. Booker’s Soul Food Starters, a Black- and woman-owned business in Macedonia, Ohio, makes Simply Southern Sides, all-natural spice and seasoning kits for homemade soul food. And Queen Charlotte’s, launched by a husband-and-wife team in Charlotte, N.C., offers four flavors of gluten-free and keto-friendly premium pimento cheese.
Two other women-owned businesses will add to Kroger’s meal offerings. Oakland, Calif.-based Nona Lim sells refrigerated pad Thai and Asian noodle kits, while Soupergirl in Washington, D.C., offers heat-and-eat soup, chili and gazpacho made from farm-fresh local produce.
In 2020, Kroger invested $4.1 billion in diverse suppliers, up 21% from 2019, and the supermarket giant aims to boost that total to $10 billion by 2030, according to Stuart Aitken, chief merchant and marketing officer.
“Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator has allowed us to identify additional growers, producers, and suppliers across regions, categories and verticals, helping us diversify our product offering and our supplier relationships and create new ways for small businesses to partner with the largest grocer in America," Aitken commented. “This year's inaugural cohort is an intentional and impactful step toward achieving that bold goal,” he added.
In tandem with Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM) and its RangeMe subsidiary, Kroger reviewed more than 1,000 Go Fresh & Local applications and picked 15 finalists. A pitch competition for the finalists was held in Cincinnati earlier this month, and a panel of judges selected five winners for the business accelerator. Grouped by region, each finalist made a 10-minute pitch and provided samples to the judges, who included De La Rosa and Milen Mahadevan, president of 84.51°; Valerie Jabbar, senior vice president of retail divisions at Kroger; Nick Tranchina, president of Murray's Cheese; Patrick Vihtelic, founder and CEO of HomeChef; and Brian Kelley, CEO of PearlRock Partners.
The Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator, a Gourmet Foods International-sponsored program, reflects Kroger’s “Fresh for Everyone” mantra. The prize package for the five winners includes on-shelf product placement at Kroger Co. grocery stores, recommended partnerships with Gourmet Foods International, and business development coaching from Kroger merchandising and sales leaders and from PearlRock’s Kelley, a 30-year CPG industry veteran and former president of Keurig Green Mountain and Coca-Cola Refreshments.