Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market has an extensive offering of foodservice/prepared foods products that range from a new line of meal kits to dishes such as the popular Vegan Chick’n Parmesan. Hilary Aspy, prepared foods program category manager, shares how the company works with suppliers to ensure the freshest products end up in customers’ hands.
Photograph courtesy of New Seasons Market
WGB: New Seasons recently launched a unique meal-kit program. How are the ingredients for the meal kits sourced? Do you pull from other departments within the store? Or is there a dedicated supplier for that program?
Aspy: We have a dedicated prepared foods team that works closely with chef and double Michelin-star holder Matt Lightner to develop our seasonal meal-kit recipes. During ideation, we try to use as many ingredients as possible from our current pantry at our central kitchen. The more uses we have for each ingredient, the better off we are. But we certainly don’t let this hold us back.
Our procurement manager at the central kitchen then starts working with our colleagues from other departments and local vendors to source the new ingredients. This is a challenging process due to the necessity of getting some of the ingredients preportioned and packaged in very specific sizes. Custom runs and order minimums come into play here as well. We are lucky to have long-standing healthy relationships with our local partners, because they understand our high-quality standards for clean, local, organic and sustainable ingredients.
WGB: How are your prepared food specials sourced? And is it the same for all of your foodservice offerings?
Aspy: Many of our recipes and programs are developed in partnership with the staff in our stores, our R&D chef at the central kitchen and local chef partners. Our Vegan Chick’n Parmesan was developed with local chef and vegan “cheeze” maker Heidi Lovig of Heidi Ho Organics; we have in-house sauces made with kimchi from local chef Matt Choi of Choi’s Kimchi; and recipes using orzo and shells from local chef Adam Berger of Rallenti Pasta.
When we develop recipes with local chefs who are supplying us with a key ingredient in the finished product, there is a shared fate and mutual investment. We have an extensive program and we source a ton of ingredients. Between the prepared foods program and category management team, the procurement manager at our central kitchen and the other departments’ program and category management teams, we attend a lot of food shows and meet with a lot of vendors to find the best products and ingredients we can get. It is always a top priority for us to find efficiencies among our programs and stay on top of food trends.
WGB: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in sourcing prepared foods at retail?
Aspy: Preparing in-house food from scratch requires high labor, but it gives us the most flexibility and control over quality. In 2013, we opened a central kitchen to reduce labor in stores and ensure product consistency across 20 stores. Additionally, leveraging our long-term local partners for ingredients simplifies the supply chain but does sometimes present challenges in getting the quantity of ingredients we need.
For example, we’d love it if every ingredient in every recipe was from a small, local vendor, but sometimes our local partners can’t fill that demand. This is when we will go with another regional partner that can meet our supply needs as well as our bar for fresh, quality ingredients.
WGB: Do you view retail foodservice as a category that is not only important today but also one that will grow even more as grocery retailing evolves?
Aspy: Absolutely. Our customers are spending more time in our deli seating areas to enjoy meals from our hot bars or drinks from our coffee or beer and wine bars. You will see us continue to invest in e-commerce, roll out new meal-kit recipes on a seasonal basis, regularly update our made-to-order menus and expand our grab-and-go offerings in the future. We’re also taking a critical look at our prepared foods packaging to see how we can further reduce our carbon footprint.
Above all, customers shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for convenience, so we’ll continue to strive to source local, quality ingredients like organic produce, non-GMO meats and sustainable seafood. We will use these ingredients in our exclusive and chef-developed recipes, including options for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free customers.