This growing retailer continues to incorporate its values into its consumer proposition.
Originally printed in the August 2023 issue of Produce Business.
For the last four decades, Kimberton Whole Foods (KWF), headquartered in Kimberton, PA, has built a legacy of seven family-owned and -operated stores around the Philadelphia suburbs by strongly maintaining a promise to customers to provide organic foods.
“We’ve built a big and growing customer base over time by doing everything we can to present the best quality product to our customers,” says Robin Brett, purchasing manager. “It’s foremost. Our customers know when they shop our stores, they are shopping a certified organic set. This sets us apart from other natural food stores where the organic can be a 50/50 split.”
The company was founded by Terry and Pat Brett, who, in 1986, were running a farm store in Chester County, PA. They sold organic yogurt made on-site at a biodynamic dairy farm now known as Seven Stars Farm.
“My parents grew that store into this group of natural grocery stores, actively reflecting their commitment to local farming, and prioritizing organic and fair food,” says Robin Brett.
It was this commitment to local farms that Brett credits as being central to the company’s success, as well as the fact it offers competitive organic pricing and enjoyable experiences.
“All of our pricing is competitive with the organic market,” he says. “We run great weekly ads and build amazing displays. Doing this consistently, day in and day out, has built our customers’ trust.”
Quality produce is crucial to attracting customers, states Brett, and is an important part of KWF’s business.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve seen that if customers are shopping the produce department, they’re more likely to do the rest of their shopping with you,” he says. “If they aren’t purchasing produce due to quality or price, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. It’s a driver that gets people in and fills out the entire shopping trip’s basket.”
The company’s Collegeville, PA, store boasts 11,000 square feet of retail space, with the produce department taking up roughly 480 square feet. Produce’s contribution to overall sales in the Collegeville store is 16%, with the outlet moving about 800 cases of produce every week.
The store carries, on average, about 270 SKUs to provide an ample offering. “The more options, the more we can sell,” says Brett. “As we’ve improved operations, it has given us the opportunity to take more risk and try more things.”
SHOWCASING PRODUCT SUSTAINABLY
KWF takes great care to reduce food waste, especially in produce, as much as possible, according to Brett.
“Our aim is to find the right balance between making an abundant, beautiful display, but not overstocking the product,” says Brett. “We don’t want extra food waste, which concerns us. It’s a balance. We watch closely that we’re putting out the right amount to sell through the day. We’re working with higher quality, more expensive organic product, so we must be careful with it.”
The Collegeville store’s produce department has a natural feel, incorporating wood in displays, floors and accents with earthy-green paint and bright lighting. Produce is merchandised in an open refrigerated case, a door case and wood tables and crates.
The 28-foot open refrigerated case has a wide selection of wet veg, selected fruits, grapes, berries and refrigerated juices. An 8-foot door case holds packaged salads and sprouts.
Collegeville’s refrigeration uses SoloChill by Hill Phoenix, a water-cooled loop system for heat rejection using case top compressors that minimize refrigeration volume. Compressors are variable speed (450 step electronic valves) with a sophisticated control board for maximum efficiency controls.
Wood orchard bin tables and crates form islands, and line the department sides to feature dry merchandised products and special displays.
The KWF store does three big seasonal changes: a spring-summer reset to highlight the summer fruit and update displays; a fall change to showcase apples and pears; and during the winter, it focuses on citrus, and also pushes potatoes, yams and squash for fall/winter.
SUPPORT FROM SOURCES
The company works closely with its primary distributor Four Seasons Produce of Ephrata, PA, which services all the stores six days a week. “Their merchandising team also helps us build displays and do store resets, and they supplement our training for department employees,” says Brett.
KWF also works with UNFI Fresh of Logan Township, NJ, for some sourcing.
According to Brett, priority for sourcing revolves around quality and organic, and then cost. “We want to get the right product at the right cost for our shoppers,” he says. “It’s important to make sure we have the best quality product at competitive pricing. It’s always a balance.”
In peak local season, the company sources extensively from local sources. “Although we have the scale to work with the bigger produce distributors, we’re also flexible enough to work with small local farms,” says Brett. “This is important because we can be flexible with them even if they can only service one store here or there. We work to help build their sales, so they can service more stores eventually.”
“It’s a gratifying part of our job to support these small farms and help them grow their business.”
In 2013, KWF invested in an 8,600 square-foot distribution center in Downingtown, PA. “It serves as a central location for our local vendors and reduces the number of trips (and thus carbon emissions) they would otherwise take to our seven stores,” says Brett.
COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNITY
KWF is vested in promotion and involvement with its shoppers. The store puts out a weekly flyer that includes all its produce promotions. “The same information goes out in an email newsletter,” says Brett, adding KWF creates social media posts on key items.
Every store also has what’s called an Ad Table. “It’s the first display greeting our customers when they walk into the store, and it features the weekly sale items,” says Brett. “It’s a strong display we use to showcase value to our customers.”
The company maintains trained produce staff at each location. KWF Category Manager John Neal sets pricing and promotions, and reviews the stores with visits on a weekly basis.
“He provides an element of training during those product and department reviews,” says Brett. “Each store has a department manager, and a big part of their job is to train team members on best practices and handling.”
KWF is a leader in the community through its philanthropic work, and dedication to supporting sustainable agriculture and other local small businesses.
“Our Rounding Up at the Register program works with hyper-local organizations that represent each location’s surrounding community,” says Brett. “We collaborate with 84 non-profits through this program and match every cent our customers donate. Since the start of Rounding Up at the Register in 2020, we’ve raised over $800,000.”
Kimberton Whole Foods
222 E. Main St., Collegeville, PA 19426
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.