Winsight Grocery Business is proud to recognize 16 retailers from Juneau, Alaska, to Portsmouth, R.I., constituting the charter class of Remarkable Independents. The selection to salute these exceptionally nimble and admirably successful local food retailers was based in part on nominations submitted on their behalf detailing their overall excellence as merchants, employers and community stewards. All nominations were vetted and reviewed by our editorial team to determine four camps of finalists in the following categories: Community Stewardship, In-Store Experience, Customer Engagement and Online/E-Commerce. Our first-ever salute to Remarkable Independents aims to shine a well-deserved spotlight on local retailers who go the extra mile to engage and serve their neighbors with a commitment to service, quality, value and integrity. We are privileged to recognize the integral role independent grocers play in their communities as great places to work, gather and give back.
Community Stewardship: Clark’s Markets
Tracing its roots to a conventional grocery store that emphasizes natural, organic and gourmet products, Aspen, Colo.-based Clark’s Markets’ eight stores—six of which are nestled amid the Colorado Rockies’ most iconic ski resort towns, with single locations in Blanding, Utah, and Sedona, Ariz.—each have their own personalities based on the needs of their respective communities. “It's important for us to listen to people, keep our ear to the ground and make sure we're giving people the products they want,” says second-generation grocer and President Tom Clark Jr. Tom Jr.’s father, Tom Sr., opened the company’s first store in 1978 and last May expanded with the acquisition of its first store in Arizona—Weber’s IGA in scenic Sedona. In recent years, Clark’s has invested heavily in major store remodels to enhance its in-store offerings and enlarge its service departments to meet the needs of both locals and visitors, with signature deli items, artisan bread, pizza, scratch-made soups, homemade gelato, fresh juices and smoothies. Clark's Markets also offer coffee bars and stations featuring lattes, espressos and other specialty drinks. Aside from its focus on high-quality perishables, better-for-you-foods, prepared meals—which include lasagna, mac and cheese, fried chicken and steak, plus an expansive selection of grab-and-go meals that are convenient for its many slope-bound shoppers—Clark’s also offers pharmacies and online shopping.
Community Stewardship: Metcalfe’s Market
Madison, Wis.-based Metcalfe’s has learned a few things about excellence in food retailing throughout its 100-year history. Marking its 100th anniversary in 2017, Metcalfe’s Markets is renowned for an abundance of local and premium-quality foods and attractive, modern stores that play home to some 3,500 local products, with many sourced directly from local farms, artisans and of course, cheesemakers. It also boasts expansive organic selections and fresh baked breads and pastries from 25 local bakeries. Metcalfe’s was an early adopter of sustainable seafood—another of its signature hallmarks, fitting with its abiding ecofriendly business approach, which includes 100% green-powered electricity. “Our organization is special because we’re a fourth-generation, family-owned business in our 101st year of operation with a commitment to support local producers,” says President Tim Metcalfe. However, he notes, “We’re most proud of our team—without them, it would not be possible to support our customers and producers the way that we do.” Aside from its three full-service markets, the company also operates a 600-square-foot Metcalfe’s Local To Go at Madison’s Dane County Regional Airport, which was recently updated and expanded after first opening in 2013. Metcalfe’s compact airport outpost features a curated mix of fresh, travel-friendly food such as salads, sandwiches, produce, snacks and drinks.
Community Stewardship: The Myers Group, Super Bear IGA
Epitomizing the best characteristics of an independent grocer is Tyler Myers, second-generation president and CEO of the Seattle-based Myers Group, which owns and operates seven IGA stores in the Pacific Northwest. Recognized as IGA’s USA International Retailer of the Year in 2016, Myers focuses heavily on being the best IGA member-operator possible by taking care of customers, employees and the communities his stores serve. In the Remarkable Retailers’ entry for Meyers’ Super Bear IGA in Juneau, Ak., the nominator praised the store’s recent move into online shopping. “Tyler and the Super Bear team have taken e-commerce head on with the addition of online ordering. Not only does this give regular customers a convenient way to shop at Super Bear, but [it] also gives the barge line operators a much-needed and easier way for them to grocery shop” during nontraditional times of day. The move is fitting with Super Bear IGA’s strong reputation as the preferred grocer of Juneau’s scenic Mendenhall Valley, whose locals and tourists alike count on the store for fresh produce, local and seasonal specialties, and its full-service butcher and seafood counters.
Community Stewardship: McQuade’s Marketplace
Three-store McQuade’s Marketplace, with one location in Connecticut and two in Rhode Island, has earned a stellar reputation for excellent prepared foods, unique items and a first-rate focus on fresh, natural and organic. The retailer offers in-store pharmacies—which provide free home delivery of all prescription items Monday through Friday—and a restaurant (The Galley) in its Mystic, Conn., store. Owner/president Michael McQuade's three-store operation has also made a name for itself for its specialty products and services including catering, a full-service floral department and healthy living products. Playing up its independent edge with in-store butcher shops and fresh-off-the-docks seafood such as local lobster, cod, flounder, blackfish, Bomster sea scallops and littlenecks, McQuade's store-smoked salmon is also a fan favorite among loyal shoppers and tourists alike. Its in-store bakery is a go-to for wedding cakes, party platters and decadent scratch-signature items. An EPG GreenChill retail partner, McQuade’s recently added another level of commitment to its environmentally responsible practices by installing a 151-kilowatt solar electric system.
In-Store Experience: Lee’s Marketplace
With five stores in the greater Salt Lake City market, Lee’s Marketplace has become synonymous with grocery excellence. Lee’s fullfils its promise to provide customers with the highest-quality fresh produce, scratch bakeries, full-service meat departments with butchers on-site, floral designers and chef-inspired meal selections. Opening its fifth store in January 2017, Lee’s Marketplace is not only regarded for its attractive, bright, well-stocked stores, but also for its signature items and housemade specialties such as fresh tortillas and salsa, fresh-squeezed orange juice, gourmet popcorn and fudge, fresh soups and sushi. Its stores also feature an impressive array of natural, organic and free-from products, while its deli offers daily lunch specials and large sit-down seating areas. Its latest store in North Salt Lake is also home to a pharmacy with a drive-up window. “We strive to make grocery shopping a fun and enjoyable experience for our team and guests,” said Jonathan Badger, president of Lee’s Marketplace, on grand opening day. For those who can’t make it into its stores, the company expanded its Lee’s Online ordering and same-day grocery pickup from three to five stores in 2017, which enhances its ability to compete against the large national chains with a seamless e-commerce platform. Lee’s also pledges ample support to local communities in countless ways, including its ongoing participation in the Great American Milk Drive, which furthers its reputation as “the milk store” as a result of Lee’s discounts on milk every Wednesday.
In-Store Experience: Buehler’s Fresh Foods
When it comes to excellent in-store experiences, 13-store, Wooster, Ohio-based Buehler’s Fresh Foods has got it going on. Within the walls of its modern stores, Buehler’s food-focused approach is impossible to miss, particularly in its full-service fresh departments, sit-down restaurants and an expansive prepared foods selection, including a Smokehouse BBQ in each location offering pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket and its famous smoked mac and cheese. Homemade soups are available both hot and chilled in pouches to heat up at home, while the chain’s chicken program uses local Gerber’s Chicken for its fried, roasted and smoked offerings. Chinese, stone-fired pizza, subs and sushi are also part of its extensive prepared foods program, which has offered round-the-clock breakfast long before it was trendy. The regional retailer is also famous for its Grandma Buehler’s made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes, as well local favorites, including ham loaf, meatloaf, fried bologna and an all-you can eat fried or baked fish meal on Fridays for $12.99. Beyond the exceptional food, Buehler’s parent company last year sold its 13 supermarkets to its 2,100 employees in the form of an employee stock ownership program (ESOP). “This was a decision we did not take lightly. Our generation of Buehlers are reaching retirement age and we think this a better option than selling the business to outsiders,” Dan Buehler, president and COO of E&H Family Group, said at time the ESOP was announced. “We want these supermarkets to be here serving customers and providing good jobs well into the future. There’s no one better qualified than our own employees to carry on that mission. We believe that the transition to an ESOP is a winning solution for the Buehler family, our employees and the communities we serve.”
In-Store Experience: Clements’ Marketplace
Established in 1980, Donald and Barbara Clements’ namesake Clements’ Marketplace has become an integral and highly popular part of the Portsmouth, R.I., community. Combining the best of a traditional local grocer with the charms of a contemporary, everyday gourmet shopping experience, Clements has a stellar reputation for delivering good things. Widely known for its store-prepared foods, full-service catering, made-to-order sandwiches, fresh sushi, brick-oven pizzas and soup, salad and wing bars, its adult beverages are also a point of Clements’ experiential appeal. “I seriously wish I could give this place more than 5 stars,” proclaimed a Yelp reviewer when effusing about its wine and beer selections, which were further validated as being “very cool” for the “easy-to-browse sets of growing regions and unique varietals.” The Yelper also heaped on praise for the store’s wine expert, Michael, who she said sparked “the real reason I am writing this review. He had so many recommendations...I will be back!!!!” Four exclamation points are also not uncommon for Clements’ fresh meats, including beef ground several times daily. Its fresh reputation is further shored up by a wide variety of daily delivered fresh catches in its seafood department, whose staff is on the ready to help customers select and prepare fresh fish dishes with confidence.
Clements has invested in renovations over the last two years that brought forth ecofriendly refrigerated cases that greatly reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also introduced what’s since become a very popular fresh-made donut and mini donut program, which has become a highlight of its in-store bakery. Over the last year, Clements invested in digital platforms to help it remain “Aquidneck Island’s hometown market,” including its curbside click-and-collect Groceries 2 Go program and the introduction of its I-Chef program, which offers customers a large, rotating selection of delicious grab-and-go meal kits. Aside from fresh food and groceries, Clements also offers a full array of convenient services, including free knife sharpening in the butcher shop, UPS shipping and notary. A major advocate and supporter of many local charities, one of Clements’ most beloved and enduring community events is its annual baby Crawling Contest, which has been going strong for the past 22 years.
In-Store Experience: Food Circus Super Markets/Foodtown
Middletown, N.J.-based Food Circus Super Markets Inc., which operates stores under the Foodtown banner, has been a go-to northern New Jersey grocer for six decades. Led by members of the Azzolina and Scaduto families and guided by a mission predicated on stocking only the freshest, quality products and providing exceptional service, Food Circus’ Foodtowns handily deliver with an exceptionally strong fresh food lineup. A stalwart supporter of Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables, the retailer’s fresh produce, floral and foliage is regarded among the industry’s best, as are its fresh meat and seafood and in-store bakeries, which produce an array of crave-worthy muffins, bagels, cookies, breads and rolls, among others signature specialties. But its prepared foods are perhaps Food Circus’s not-so-secret weapon. In addition to its highly popular fried chicken, Food Circus markets a full line of refrigerated prepackaged complete dinners, entrees, sides, salads, nine varieties of homemade soups, and a premium vodka sauce that is the talk of the town. “Our vodka sauce is probably our No. 1 seller out of anything that we sell,” Michelle Cantalupo, supervisor of fresh foods, told WGB, while also pointing out other unique and hugely popular items, such as its eggplant pie. Last year, Cantalupo and Miguel Morales successfully defended the Foodtown operator’s title of 2017 Supermarket Industry Best Chef Cook-Off winner in a contest sponsored by the New Jersey Food Council. Cantalupo and Morales competed against chefs from several New Jersey supermarkets and made two dishes—a pan-seared Chilean sea bass as the entree, and a chocolate tamale. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our foodservice team here at Food Circus,” said Lou Scaduto Jr., president of Food Circus.
Customer Engagement: Martin’s IGA Market Fresh
Five Star IGA Retailer Martin’s Market Fresh in Cashmere, Wash., has long prioritized service as part of its foundational roots. But after serving as a pilot retailer for IGA’s Way to Serve program, owner Phil Blackburn and his team have seen tremendous success with a good-to-great approach to customer service initiatives, which has sparked recognition by the customers themselves. Blackburn, owner of Martin’s for nearly 10 years, has long been a believer in exceptional service—not only for customers, but employees as well. The independent retailer’s pledge to service also extends heavily to the community, as Blackburn’s role as past president of the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce attests. Guided by a belief that a store’s responsibilities span more than merely providing customers with a quality shopping experience, Blackburn and his team strive to impact the lives of its local community in meaningful ways. One standout aspect is Martin’s dedication to supporting Washington State local farmers, who provide at least half of the store’s fresh produce during the late spring and summer seasons. Another of the many ways Martin’s gives back to the community is by offering its 1% Program, where shoppers who provide a code at checkout for the store can donate 1% of the sale to their charity of choice.
Customer Engagement: Broulim’s Fresh Foods
Broulim’s Fresh Foods could have easily taken the nod as a Remarkable Independent e-commerce honoree in light of holding the title of NGA’s 2017 Outstanding Marketer award for its impactful video campaign to kick off its online shopping service last year. However, the Rigby, Idaho-based regional retailer’s overall excellence with customer engagement on all fronts is well worth saluting. Indeed, the 10-store Broulim’s is widely regarded as the standard bearer for service and quality in eastern Idaho (8) and western Wyoming (2). From its esteemed scratch bakeries, prepared foods, superior fresh meats and exceptional merchandising, Broulim’s is all about people, including its family of 750 employee-owners, which it considers its greatest asset, as well as its customers, who are at the forefront of the retailer’s strategic mission “to offer the highest levels of customer service, quality and value available.” Broulim’s engagement also extends vibrantly to its community outreach in a variety of ways, such as routinely purchasing livestock from youth auctions at the local fairs, active participation with local schools and food banks, and countless other contributions to local, regional and national philanthropic organizations. Broulim’s appeal is well noted on social networks, including a recent post that calls it “the store of stores” for its “food, food, food, food, food! The choices were endless,” said the Yelp reviewer, who also took note of its expansive food bar that seemed to take up “half the store ... If you're ever in this area, stop by for some food, or just to look around. It’s a fun store.”
Customer Engagement: Ferguson & Hassler
Ferguson & Hassler has had a close-knit relationship with its customers for a century, as the commemoration of its recent 100th anniversary attests. Beginning as a general store, Ferguson & Hassler’s, or "Fergie’s," as it is more familiarly known in its native Lancaster County, Pa., has evolved over the years into a large supermarket that remains under the ownership of one of the original families. In recognition of its centennial milestone in 2017, owners Chip, Jim and Tim Hassler hosted a series of customer appreciation days throughout the year with free samples, hot deals and in-store events. The independently owned single store is also working to provide its customers with as much convenience as possible with the recent addition of Fergie’s Online Curbside Express. “People are busy these days, and any opportunity we have to save them time is helpful for everyone,” says Timothy Hassler, e-commerce manager. The retailer further digitally engages its loyal customer base with a curated collection of recipes available on its website, which allows customers to browse by categories such as “budget friendly,” “diabetes management” and “serves two.” Service is a big part of Fergie’s brand promise, particularly in its meat department, which employs a team of on-site butchers. Another of its signature offerings is a vast party tray selection ranging from sandwiches, vegetable and fruit to shrimp, wings and cookies. Fergies’ commitment to service extends to full-service checkout, where customers can have their orders loaded into their cars by the store’s staff. Fergie’s has also helped create a community atmosphere with its popular cafe, where customers can enjoy fresh smoothies and customizable breakfast sandwich and burgers, among other fresh meal options.
Customer Engagement: Lowcountry Grocers, Piggly Wiggly
Piggly Wiggly and South Carolina go together like shrimp and grits, and Lynn Willard knows it better than anyone. As a 30-year veteran of “The Pig,” as the banner is affectionately known in its native Deep South, Willard and his wife, Cindy, now own nine stores as part of their family-held Lowcountry Grocers, which is dedicated to providing shoppers with a clean store, friendly service, superior meats and produce, and an overall enjoyable shopping experience. Beyond their commitment to taking care of their customers and associates, the Willards invest heavily in their community, including their participation in the Charleston Basket Brigade to feed more than 3,500 families in the Charleston area. Each year, the Basket Brigade raises money to buy food that is then assembled into boxes to offer each family that receives one a complete Thanksgiving meal. Each box contains a 10- to 12-pound turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, fresh rolls and a pumpkin pie. Also inside the box is an anonymous letter that reads, “This comes to you from someone who cares about you. All we ask is that you take care of yourself well enough to be able to do this for someone else one day.” Lowcountry Grocers also supports the MDA’s Shamrock campaign to aid in the battle against Muscular Dystrophy. In addition to the laudable community involvement, Willard connects with his shoppers through their bellies by offering full-service hot lines featuring Carolina Country cuisine at several locations.
Online/E-Commerce: Roche Bros.
While the rest of the country was gearing up for the New Year, Roche Bros. was getting ready to launch its dazzling new online shopping site. The Wellesley, Mass.-based retailer, which operates 18 stores in the Bay State, designed its new e-commerce site with the goal of helping shoppers plan their home delivery and in-store shopping lists. Boasting new features such as personalization, price alerts and product details, the user-friendly site allows customers to shop and order from items displayed, along with recommendations that become more personalized. Shoppers can also select filters such as “organic,” “low sodium” and “local,” as well as set price alerts for when specific items go on sale. To avoid confusion, Roche Bros. staff even set up a tutorial video to teach shoppers how to navigate its new digital shopping hub. In addition to the new website, Roche Bros. has found plenty of ways to engage with its customers, including offering a Kids Club, in which little shoppers get a free fruit of the month, a free flower of the month and a cupcake on their birthday. Additionally, the retailer offers in-store demos and weekly specials that can easily be found on Roche Bros.’ enhanced primary website.
Online/E-Commerce: Gerrity’s ShurSave
Gerrity’s Supermarkets, which operates nine stores in the greater Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of northern Pennsylvania, has been marketing-minded for the duration, and has adapted to the digital and social media age with flying colors. Over a decade ago, the retailer was one of the first to launch a website that connected customers with its stores’ offerings, and soon after started offering online order-ahead services. In addition to other features such as delivery services and digital coupons, Gerrity’s has upped its digital game even further with its pick, pack and scan function that allows customers to scan items as they shop using their mobile phones for added convenience. In a continued effort to stay ahead of the times, Gerrity’s will soon begin testing digital kiosks in some locations. The kiosks will allow customers to print coupons, and will also provide customers with recipes, cooking tips and a store-specific offering on items only found at Gerrity’s. The retailer has made it a part of its mission to use social media to connect with shoppers and inform them of special events, daily deals and weekly features.
Online/E-Commerce: Highland Park Markets
Highland Park Markets’ slogan “Nobody does it better” has now been expanded to include “Nobody delivers it better” with the retailer’s Highland in a Hurry grocery delivery service powered by Rosie. The retailer, which operates five stores in Connecticut, allows customers to “shop in minutes” by offering the easy and user-friendly grocery delivery and pickup platform. The online grocery shopping platform Rosie helps retailers offer personalized experiences for customers with features such as the ability to “favorite” items and see recommended items based on past purchases. The retailer also regularly keeps its easy-to-use website updated with the daily lunch menu, weekly ads and “wild weekend savings.” Shoppers seeking dinner inspiration need not look further than Highland Park Markets’ Facebook page, which consistently shares reminders of which items are on sale with mouthwatering visuals and intricate recipes that would have anybody running to the grocery store. In addition to the retailer’s convenient social and digital presence, Highland Park offers plenty of desirable services such as catering for any occasion and store-made gift baskets.
Online/E-Commerce: Jumbo Foods
Jumbo Foods launched its e-commerce service in Enid, Okla., with success right out of the gate. In the first month, the retailer provided groceries to more than 200 local customers who shopped online in the 55,000-person community. The retailer, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, employs personal in-store shoppers to carefully pick each item, and even offers a 100% happiness guarantee. In addition to the e-commerce assets, Jumbo Foods offers a rewards program that enables customers to earn points and rewards each time they use it. The program includes fuel as well as food, which allows customers to have the flexibility to apply their rewards points on either option. Rewards members can conveniently check their card balance and find other information online. Jumbo Foods’ staff also engages the community with live events and online social media marketing. The retailer regularly posts store-made videos on its Facebook page with staff members reminding consumers that a family of four can be fed for under $20 with Jumbo’s burger lunch special, for example, or that they can stay out of the cold by shopping the new online delivery service.