This innovative community retailer is on a mission to provide nutritious, delicious food for those in need.
Originally printed in the December 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Daily Table breaks the mold of both small format retail and philanthropic food organizations. “We are a nonprofit, community store,” says Laura Ancona, marketing and communications manager for Daily Table in Dorchester, MA. “Our objective is to make healthy, fresh, tasty food as affordable and available as possible for the communities we serve.”
Founded by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, the store was created to help address the challenges of nutritional insecurity in underserved communities. The Dorchester store opened in 2015. As the concept took hold, two more stores followed in 2018 (Nubian Square in Roxbury), and 2021 (Central Square in Cambridge). “We have two more stores under construction in Mattapan and Salem, with plans to open in the first half of 2023,” says Ancona. “We want to perfect our model in the Boston area and then expand to other regions.”
The store’s mission is to be a store, not a charity. “We make our stores welcoming and friendly and offer our customers a dignified shopping experience,” says Ancona. “Just like any other retailer, we have to earn our customers’ patronage. This retail format reverses the power structure of other food insecurity organizations. Our stores provide a shopping experience that empowers people to eat well with the power of their own dollars, offering a helping hand rather than a handout.”
The organization emphasizes that anyone can shop the stores, not just those in need. “We don’t want our store experience to be defined by income or need,” says Ancona. “We even encourage our donors to shop with us.”
Produce fits perfectly with the store’s philosophy and objective. “We believe delicious and wholesome food should be available and accessible to all,” says Ancona. “Produce is a major element of a healthy diet. Our stores provide a selection of fresh produce, grocery staples and made-from-scratch prepared foods.”
Since produce is one of the most important components of nutrition, explains Ancona, the store puts great emphasis on the produce department. “It’s often the first section shoppers see and we make the products very visible,” she says. “For example, we have a giant sign advertising bananas at the lowest price in the area — 39 cents a pound.”
The store also offers a program called Double Up Food Bucks, giving an additional 50% off fresh fruits and vegetables if customers use their SNAP benefits. “This program gives our customers the best price on produce in the Boston area,” says Ancona. “A Tufts University research study found that offering this SNAP incentive program increased customer purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables by 27%.”
The entire store operates by select nutritional guidelines, set by a group of dietitians from the world-class Med-Ed community in Boston. “We don’t sell anything that has high sugar or sodium,” says Ancona. “And customer feedback lets us know the impact we’re having. A recent customer email relayed how amazing they think our salads are. This customer noted they now eat a salad every day at lunch, thanks to our store.”
MUCH FROM LITTLE
The stores are very small format, only about 3,000 square feet, which means a limited, but powerful, produce area (roughly 1,000 square feet). “The stores are small, urban-format grocery stores,” says Ancona. “But, we’re more than just a corner store. We sell all the grocery essentials and a good line of produce — our top-selling department.”
Since the store’s focus is on providing healthy products, produce is a star. The bright, open produce section is approximately 30%, size-wise, of the entire store and contributes an average of 33% to overall sales. Produce is merchandised using a combination of wet-rack, moveable tables and other displays.
The produce mix varies by store, with an average of 115 items in the section. “We have staple items that we always source,” says Ancona. “We offer culturally appropriate items for our communities, as well as seasonal items.”
The stores highlight seasonal displays or items on which there is a good deal. “In fall, for example, we emphasize pumpkins and local apples with a big display,” says Ancona.
SOURCING FOR SUCCESS
By partnering with a network of growers, manufacturers and other suppliers, Daily Table is able to source high-quality food at low cost. “Thus, we can make it available to everyone at prices designed for even a SNAP budget,” says Ancona.
The retailer sources in both traditional and non-traditional ways, looking for best deals from local purveyors. “We go every week to the Boston Market in Chelsea,” says Ancona. “We also buy from other local wholesalers.”
In addition to the wholesalers, Daily Table directly partners with local growers. “For example, Little Leaf Farms, in Devens, MA, is a local lettuce producer and they give us lettuce at half the price,” says Ancona. “We also work with the Boston Area Gleaners and local farmers markets in the summer to get what we can from them.”
Sourcing criteria revolve around the buy, looking for good quality with favorable pricing. “Our priority is getting quality food at the best price,” says Ancona. “After that, if we can get local or organic, it’s a plus.”
The retailer is on the verge of expanding its buying team from three to four people. “Our buying team looks for the best deals for our customers,” says Ancona. “Not just for produce, but all products. We look for those opportunity-buys so we can pass the savings on to our customers.”
The retailer’s business model strives to maintain a self-sustaining business while serving the community. “Our goal is to generate our funding through the delivery of our mission, not just for the delivery of the mission,” says Ancona. “This allows us to focus our attention on our mission instead of fundraising.”
The store also seeks to provide a sustainable healthy lifestyle for its customers. “We have a Commissary Kitchen, which prepares meals every day, including salads, sandwiches and soups,” says Ancona. “It’s all freshly made, healthy, affordable, really good and SNAP eligible.”
In addition, Daily Table offers free cooking classes in its Teaching Kitchen for individuals in the community looking to provide healthy meals for themselves and their families. “The classes are run by a team of contracted professionals who teach nutrition education to participants,” says Ancona. “We are committed to providing this extensive programming with the community in mind.”
The store uses social media and online presence to promote deals and information. “We have an email list that generates an email communication every two weeks,” says Ancona. “It’s our version of a circular and we always include at least one produce item every time.”
The store has developed creative promotions to encourage even more consumption among the community. “One great example is our Free Produce Day,” says Ancona. “It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we offer $15 in free produce to customers. We partner with suppliers to support us with donations and then we give that product back to the community. It really fosters produce consumption.”
450 Washington St., Dorchester, MA 02124
Hours: Monday–Saturday: 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m.–7 p.m.