Originally printed in the June 2018 issue of Produce Business.
A new fresh-oriented, neighborhood retailer embodies what Chicago consumers want.
Sam’s Farmers Market prides itself on offering good tasting, healthy and fresh products to a wide variety of customers. This 27,000-square-foot store heavily emphasizes its fresh fruit and vegetable selection, positioning itself akin to a farmers’ market and allocating approximately 10,000 square feet for produce.
The store epitomizes the budding retail environment in Chicago, having opened just a year ago in June 2017. Owned by Sam Zarcone and his nephew, Tony Albante, the operation emphasizes customer service, quality produce and value with a focus on serving the specifics of its shoppers from both the local neighborhood and surrounding suburbs.
According to Zarcone, his customers love shopping the store. “We keep quality merchandise and maintain prices as reasonable as possible,” he says. “We promote a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere and promote a fun retail environment — for example, offering tastings of produce, deli meats, bakery items and fresh pizza slices.”
Farm Fresh Atmosphere
Produce is fundamental to the store as evidenced by the open, farmers’ market-style vibe. “Produce and deli are the big reasons our customers come back,” says Zarcone. “Produce accounts for close to 40 percent of overall sales, and we handle probably close to 200 SKUs through the entire year.”
Upon walking in the door, customers are greeted with a bright produce department immediately to the right. Abundant displays adorn a 35-foot wet rack, with large islands of produce dotting the center of the department. A 10-foot organic section completes the far side of the space.
Sam’s maintains a consistent layout throughout the year, though some aspects may change depending on season. “We just moved our berries to the center aisle to better meet customer demand and visibility,” says Zarcone. “Our main goal in merchandising is to display a full variety, always fresh and reasonable pricing.”
The produce department serves as a gateway to other exciting store highlights including the deli area, an international food aisle, a tortilla-making area, gelato section, fresh pizza ovens and a homemade popcorn area. “We had a big hand in how we wanted produce to look when designing the store,” says Zarcone. “We wanted to start with produce leading into the deli department and then to other notable areas.”
To sustain the farmers’ market atmosphere, Sam’s sources from a variety of places and vendors. As seasonality permits, it buys a significant amount of local product, especially in summer months. “This includes apples and berries from Michigan and potatoes from Wisconsin,” says Zarcone. “We procure melons, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables from Wisconsin and Michigan as much as possible. We buy from the major shippers in these areas as well as smaller farms.”
However, given the region’s climate, the store also relies on the Chicago International Produce Market to source items not in season or not available. “The Market is a vital source for us,” says Zarcone. “We are on the market usually four times a week. Even when we are buying things from surrounding states in season, we still need items from the market.”
Zarcone’s criteria for pricing include quality first, but with good value a close second. “Our most important goal is to offer customers the highest-quality products — always fresh,” says Zarcone. “A good price is also important, as well as buying local when we can.”
The store encourages employees to go out of their way to make customers feel welcome. “Our staff is trained and encouraged to answer any questions and assist customers in any way,” says Zarcone. “All our managers are experts in their areas. We are proud of our staff and grateful to our customers.”
Sam’s caters to a diverse clientele. “We have all ages and demographics shopping here,” says Zarcone. “We serve a lot of families and have many ethnic groups represented including Polish, Italian, Hispanic, Indian and Bulgarian.”
Promotion happens with help from customers spreading the word as well as advertising. “Word of mouth in Des Plaines and the surrounding area has helped a great deal as it’s been very favorable,” says Zarcone. “We also advertise our specials and do fliers in the local papers and have our own mailing.”
Sam’s Farmers Market:
1045 E. Oakton St., Des Plaines, Il 60018
Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sat. 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sun 7 a.m.-8 p.m.