Well-known brands, locally grown produce and outstanding value keep customers coming back.
There’s no need to advertise the freshness of the produce at Freshfields Farm. The classic red-painted barn façade says it all. This is the first sight customers see as they enter this iconic retailer at either its Orlando or Jacksonville, FL, locations. What Freshfields Farm isn’t is a conventional supermarket. There is no grocery, bakery, deli, floral, frozen foods or beverage aisles. What draws customers to the store — for everything from weekly shopping to destination trips from miles away — are two departments: produce and meat.
“High-quality, fresh, great-tasting produce is in demand as much or more than ever,” says Earl McGrath, director of produce operations in Orlando. “There is great opportunity for those who can provide fresh product to their customers.”
The retailer began as a small meat market in 1973. Produce was added in 1981, with expansions in 1983, 1999 and 2001 to its current 12,000-square-foot size. In 2008, the name changed from Momm’s Meats and Popp’s Produce to Freshfields Farm. In 2013, the retailer opened its second location in Jacksonville. An additional 5,000-plus square feet was added to the Jacksonville store in January 2016, making it more than twice the size of its Central Florida counterpart.
Both Orlando and Jacksonville are great locations for a produce-centric store. Both cities are in the Top 25 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. As of 2013, both have estimated median household income of more than $40,000, and both are home to residents of Caribbean, Filipino and Arab descent, where fruits and vegetables are a staple part of the diet.
“We service a wide cross-section of different cultures and backgrounds. Essentially, our goal is to be the ultimate destination for anyone who cooks by providing them with great products and outstanding value,” says McGrath.
The first step in this process is produce procurement. Freshfields Farm sources chiefly from nearly two dozen name brand suppliers. These include Driscoll’s, Columbine Vineyards, Del Monte, Calavo Growers, Dole Food Company, Tanimura & Antle and Potandon. Only 5 percent of produce comes from wholesalers. McGrath says this buying method not only “levels the playing field” for Freshfields Farm compared to larger competitors, but also gives the small retailer “a leg up” in terms of freshness and value to its customers. For example, when a supplier calls with extra product, McGrath works nimbly to take advantage by getting it in-store quickly and signing it with an attractive price. It’s a procedure that offers a great buy to customers and helps long-time suppliers by moving extra product. It’s sheer volume and velocity of sales, McGrath says, that enables Freshfields Farm to compete effectively with bigger rival retailers.
“Our Meat and Produce Departments operate in separate buildings, therefore product is kept in separate areas,” says McGrath.
Product to be briefly stored is moved directly from trucks to the retailer’s 38-degree produce-only cooler in Orlando — about 1,000 square feet in size. All other product goes immediately to the 4,000-square-foot, 58-degree sales floor. Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are displayed in a separate 38-degree refrigerated case.
On the food safety front, Freshfields’ managers are required to undergo state certification food safety training. All produce employees receive one-on-one training with management and also undergo web-based training. Employees in the fresh-cut area, which is an employee’s-only section in the middle of the sales floor, wear gloves and hairnets at all times, and clean and sanitize cutting board prep areas. The retailer also conducts internal food safety audits.
There are 120 employees at the Orlando location, with 31 in the Produce Department. The store features an average of 200 fresh produce SKUs. This selection of gourmet, organic, conventional, exotic and locally grown fruits and vegetables represented 39 percent of total store sales in Orlando during 2015. The five top sellers were Driscoll’s strawberries, Driscoll’s blueberries, Driscoll’s raspberries, conventional bananas and red seedless grapes. Fifteen to 20 of these SKUs are fresh-cuts and 20 to 30 are organics. Organic fruits and vegetables make up 15 percent of total produce sales. Organic choices may include apples, carrots, mushrooms, berries and salad mixes, and are spotlighted by green signage labeled “Organic Pick.”
Locally grown is well-represented at Freshfields Farm stores and identified with red signage labeled “Local Picks.” An average of 40 items, or 20 percent, of fresh produce SKUs are locally grown fruits and vegetables, defined as within 400 miles of either store. Local is a year-round program at the retailer thanks to Florida and the southeast region’s climate. Strawberries, collard greens, corn and mushrooms are some of the locally grown selections. McGrath says local vendors, as well as those that supply nationally and internationally grown produce, must comply with all mandated federal and state laws and guidelines for food safety.
A unique feature at this retailer is a lazy river format that channels customers to walk by the product as they ultimately wind their way to the check out. Mass displays of chiefly bulk produce create a real farmers market feel, albeit indoors. There are separate checkouts in the Produce and Meat departments. In fact, there’s an ice cream stand between the departments. This means vegans and vegetarians never have to pass the meat to get to produce.
Freshfields Farm is as equally renowned for its meats as its produce. There’s all-natural and grass-fed beef, free-range lamb, antibiotic-free poultry and locally caught seafood. All meat is hand-cut and packaged in-store.
McGrath anticipates branding and marketing playing a greater role in the future. “Backing a consistently high-quality fresh product is proving to be a powerful tool in reaching consumers and bringing them back to the store time after time. Repeat customers are looking for that great grape or strawberry variety they had last week. They are noticing brand and variety information more than ever and research of individual brands is only a few clicks away with smartphones.”