Fresh Thyme Farmers Market offers affordable organic options, supports charities, and provides nutrition education
Envision, for a moment, the pasta aisle at your local, name-brand grocery store. How long did it take you to find the right brand and style of pasta? How many minutes did you waste staring down jar after jar of almost identical marinara sauces before giving up and just grabbing the closest one?
In an age where technology and consumer demand is driving more efficient experiences, why are grocery stores still so time-consuming?
The tech revolution has been slow to catch on for most. But smaller regional players like Fresh Thyme Farmers Market are getting customer experience right. So much so, in fact, that Fresh Thyme opened nearly 20 new stores in 2017 alone.
For a brand that has only been around for three and a half years, that amount of growth is astonishing and, frankly, unheard of. But Chris Sherrell—Founder, President, and CEO—knew his startup grocery had a winning model.
After nearly a quarter of a century of leadership experience with health food brands Wild Oats Markets and Sunflower Farmers Market, Sherrell was ready to bring his own spin on the traditional grocery store to the masses.
“I wanted to create a natural-focused specialty store that brought valuable offerings to the masses,” he shared in a conversation with BOSS. “I wanted a store where nutritious products were more attainable—where health was the concern over retail pricing.”
Sherrell’s Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has combined the spirit of a weekend farmers market and the convenience of a neighborhood store with the nutritious offerings of a natural food marketplace. This new shopping experience has graced the Midwest with a new, exciting, value-oriented, fresh, and healthy grocery store chain dedicated to creating a friendly shopping environment at affordable prices.
In short, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s goal is to give more people access to the things they need to live a healthier lifestyle.
“This store was just as much for me as it was for the region. I have always wanted to do this,” Sherrell continued. “I knew we could create something special. From a leadership perspective, I was excited to inspire and train the next generation in the industry, and give people the opportunity to better themselves and their career. With this mindset combined with my mission of health, Fresh Thyme was born.”
Sherrell believes that with a bevy of locally grown and sourced produce and products, an award-winning private label, and an employee base dedicated to their jobs and their community, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market could succeed.
Turns out he was right.
Growing Grocery Trends
Before we talk about Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s success specifically, we need to set the stage. The state of grocery stores in the U.S. is in flux. From 2017 and onwards, shoppers should prepare to see changes in their grocery stores coming fast, one after another. What are the biggest trends that are about to become commonplace?
Changing consumer habits are bringing more organic options to the dinner table than ever, leading grocery stores to stock more organic options.
“Organic is at an all-time high,” said Sherrell. “It’s here to stay. Consumers want to know where and how their food was grown, and they want it without chemicals. People want an understanding of what they are feeding their families.”
Other healthy options are also surging. Applied Predictive Technologies, through a recent survey, shared that major labels are advertising their products as ‘now made without high-fructose corn syrup’, grocery stores are removing junk food from their checkout line shelving, and many retailers are focused on providing more education to consumers.
Online shopping has finally found popularity in the grocery sector, despite being available to consumers for nearly a decade. Amazon and Walmart both offer fresh and packaged goods for delivery, and most grocery chains have followed suit. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has partnered with Amazon Prime now for grocery delivery in three select markets.
Technology extends beyond online shopping. Increasing online traffic, creating proprietary mobile apps, and making the grocery circular digital are all ways groceries around the country—including Fresh Thyme Farmers Market—are shifting to meet millennial and other younger generations’ wants and needs.
Stocking Local Produce
One way Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is catering to changing consumer needs is by sourcing as many organic products as possible from local vendors. This plays a big part in Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s successful grocery strategy.
“As we started to look around in our markets, and saw what the country’s grocery stores were doing from an economic and environmental standpoint, we knew that locally sourcing produce was where everyone was going. We wanted to be a part of that.”
Of course, running a business in the Midwest means that locally sourced produce isn’t going to be available all year round. It’s not always possible to source locally, but when it is, Fresh Thyme does.
“Dealing with the seasons in the Midwest prevents us from doing fresh local produce in the winter months. But in warm months, we buy from as many local farmers as possible,” Sherrell stated.
Its private label looks to neighboring states to supply many of its canned and jarred goods; Sherrell shared that Fresh Thyme Farmers Market gets its bean, tomato, and tomato sauce products from Indiana. The grocery chain also utilizes its own distribution centers; self-distribution is faster, and makes it easier to get products where they need to go.
All of this local effort serves a much bigger purpose than making Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s supply chain more efficient: creating a sense of community is a supporting pillar of Sherrell’s mission for the brand.
“We want both our employees and customers to be personally connected to the brand,” he said. “By keeping the majority of our business workings local, it helps the economics in our employees and customers’ cities and states.
“A community doesn’t necessarily expect a business to help. But since the get-go, we’ve made an effort to reach out and give back where we can. We like to support local vendors and growers to ensure we can continue having their quality products available to us.”
Community & Countrywide Involvement
“There are plenty of good companies in the country that get by without being involved in their communities. But how can you expect a consumer to buy into your brand when you don’t buy into them? We don’t just want to be good; we want to be great.”
To create the company’s strong brand loyalty following, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market makes an incredible effort in the regions and communities it is located. From meeting with chambers of commerce to working with schools and nonprofits, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market uncovers the needs of the community and finds a way to give back.
“One of the most important things for me as a leader is to understand our role as a business in the community,” Sherrell said.
Community efforts range from sponsoring a tee ball team and buying score boards for fields, to donating produce and money to schools in need.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has also partnered with larger, nationwide charities to provide support to those in need across the country. The organization has teamed up with Giuliana Rancic’s breast cancer awareness nonprofit Fab U Wish, as well a Mission 22, an organization that raises awareness of the 22 military veterans that commit suicide every day.
“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer. Everyone knows someone in the military. But we often can’t understand the tragedies and struggles in these people’s lives,” Sherrell said.
He was thankful to point out that in the last few years, Mission 22 has noticed a drop in suicides from 22 to 20 per day.
“I want to lead by example for the staff here at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market,” he shared. “Being successful is one thing, but helping someone out and giving back brings so much value to your life.”
A Healthy Education
With a long history in the food and beverage industry, Sherrell knows the importance not only of healthy eating, but of educating the masses on the importance of choosing the right fuel for your body.
That’s why one of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s mission is to fight childhood obesity through education.
“If parents can help their children set good habits now, they don’t have to worry about breaking bad habits later in life. That’s why educating both adults and children on the finer points of eating healthy and encouraging an active lifestyle are so important.”
Fresh Thyme supports local garden and urban gardening projects which bring the grower’s process a little closer to home. The company also works with schools on lunch replacement programs to trade unhealthy lunches for ones containing more nutrition.
Two dedicated Fresh Thyme Farmers Market dieticians go through all of the company’s stores and provide healthy shopping tours for adults and fun activities like hide and go seek, or treasure hunts for kids throughout the locations.
Talk about making grocery shopping fun.
Creating A New Level of Quality
In addition to empowering families to eat healthier, Sherrell wanted to make nutritious food more affordable. Creating a private label for Fresh Thyme Farmers Market was part of the solution.
“We want Fresh Thyme products in people’s cabinets. We want to be a part of our customers’ every day. The value proposition and branding opportunities were enormous. But it goes beyond that. By having private label items, we control the quality and price.”
Los-Angeles-based The Creative Pack teamed up with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market to design the private brand. Its branding—which Fresh Thyme insisted depict its core values of honesty, superior value, straight talk, and shopping ease—paired with the flexibility of creating the perfect Fresh Thyme Farmers Market project has already made the line of products award-winning.
Sherrell and his executive team pushed forward with the label starting in 2014. By 2016, it already had 400 individual skus. This year, the company surpassed 1,000 skus.
In 2016, the design by The Creative Pack gained recognition and awards by design industry leaders such as the Vertex Awards, and GDUSA graphic design and health and wellness award for its innovation and excellence in private label branding.
Seasonal private label products allow unique items not normally stocked on Fresh Thyme shelves to make an appearance. For Sherrell, the reward is simple.
“It’s fun. We get to create cool items that are great tasting and high quality for our customers.”
This quality and unique experience Fresh Thyme provides through its private label has seen great success.
“It’s amazing to see your own private label product become a best-seller in its category virtually overnight,” Sherrell shared.
On the horizon in Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s private label? A new line of Greek yogurt, Kombucha, soups, mashed cauliflower, and, as always, a continuing line of organic items. The company is also currently developing a huge line of natural cleaners to take the harmful chemicals out of your home.
A Better Grocery Experience
The time it took you to read this piece is probably equal to the time you’ve spent in that pasta aisle. At Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, however, organic options, quality private label offerings, a smaller selection to choose from, and even healthy meals already prepared and ready to eat, will vastly improve most consumers’ grocery store experience.
“People don’t want to spend forever in a grocery store. Our lives are busy, and shoppers want to get in and out. We’ve created an environment, both in our brick and mortar locations, and in the digital space, to shorten the shopping time.”
And, this model is working. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has opened 40 stores in the last 24 months on top of a base of 28 stores. Next year, the brand is expecting to launch 10-15 more stores and over 100 new private label skus.
“We’ve put together one of the best leadership teams, and best overall teams in the country. 2018 is going to be a breakout year for us.”
As consumer preferences shift toward organic food choices, Sherrell now has the opportunity to fulfill his dream of building an honest brand while having a positive effect on local communities.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets provides a healthy and fresh new way to grocery shop.