Originally printed in the May 2020 issue of Produce Business.
Stores with a unique mission: to restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Locally sourced organic produce — and concern about the Chesapeake Bay area environment — has helped MOM’S Organic Market’s expand its produce aisles and a successful grocery chain in the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area, otherwise known as DelMarVA.
In 1987, Scott Nash began an organic produce home delivery system with $100 in start-up capital, his sister’s Chevy Malibu station wagon and the use of his mother’s garage. More than three decades later, MOM’S has grown into an independent chain with 17 stores throughout the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
In 2020, the Rockville, MD-based chain plans to open stores in Abington, PA, and in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The Dobbs Ferry store, on the Hudson River north of Yonkers, NY, in the New York Metropolitan area, will be the first Empire State store for MOM’S.
Steady growth of the enterprise has evolved because the market reflects the spirit of the times for a sizeable number of area residents looking for locally sourced organic produce with a strong commitment to restoring and preserving the Chesapeake Bay environment.
EXPERIENCE STARTS WITH PRODUCE
“Our core customers are super passionate about the quality and ingredient standards of what they purchase,” says Chris Miller, produce director. “Produce is where their MOM’s experience starts, and it is very important for us to offer only the highest quality organic produce available to meet our customers’ expectations.”
The stores work hard to make sure the 100% organic product mix is diverse and high-quality for its customers, says Miller. “Our primary focus is on freshness through quick turns and detail-oriented handling,” he says. While the stores’ organic and natural foods are inherently more expensive than most conventional options, MOM’S works to be as accessible and affordable as possible, says Miller.
“Our goal is that you can come into produce with your eyes closed, and everything you pick up you would be excited to show your family.”– Chris Miller
Although the gold standard is locally sourced USDA-certified organic fruits and vegetables, the stores built their reputation on the freshness and quality of the produce.
“We have a reputation for a number of things, but one of them is definitely high-quality organic produce,” says Miller. “We do quick turns, and we do freshness culling every day. Our goal is that you can come into produce with your eyes closed, and everything you pick up you would be excited to show your family.”
In addition to organic, the stores also try as much as possible to source locally. “Our range of sources is wider than it was, and we’re talking about that,” says Miller. “The short answer is within 150 miles.” MOM’S begins with asparagus in May. Beets and brassica start in early June. The warm weather produce becomes ready in July. Mushrooms and microgreens are grown throughout the year locally while local storage squash is supplied during the middle of the winter.
Two local co-ops the chain sources from are Tuscarora Organic Growers and Lancaster Farm Fresh. Both account for about 100 to 200 small Pennsylvania organic farms. MOM’S also sources from Summer Creek Farms in Thurmont, MD. The certified-organic farming operation employs tunnels and a heated greenhouse to extend its season. There are times, however, when MOM’S must source from out of the area in order to maintain its supply of organic produce.
Sourcing locally is important because the company promotes a core corporate value of helping restore nearby watersheds degraded by runoff and leaching of synthetic fertilizers. “We try to stay watershed based,” says Miller. “We want to protect and help restore the environment of the Chesapeake Bay.” Restoring the Chesapeake’s habitat is a cause of major concern for environmentalists from local nature lovers to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
ORGANIC PRODUCT DIVERSIFICATION
The development of more reliable and diversified organic produce has played a major role in the growth of MOM’S. In the past, Honeycrisp apples weren’t always available organically. Now Honeycrisp and Opal apples, super greens, clamshells of greens as well as red Russian, green curly and lacinato kale are available organically, says Miller. “The amount of variety has expanded,” he says.
The formula has allowed the company to develop a network of stores in neighborhoods of widely varying demographics in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
MOM’S stores are in lower-than-average income neighborhoods of Ivy City in D.C., and Jessup, MD, but also in relatively comfortable Waldorf, MD, and other suburban communities.
The stores’ customer base varies. “Some loyal customers are drawn to us for health and wellness reasons, and some are drawn because they are in line with our purpose, to protect and restore the environment,” says Miller.
“Regardless of income level, we have a customer base that is in tune with the importance of high-quality food. The majority of our customers are suburban people shopping for families who fill their shopping carts. But we also accommodate the younger consumer.”
Growth at MOM’S has come during substantial competition in the organic produce market. Some local independent stores and a number of Whole Foods stores are MOM’S primary produce competition, says Miller. The retail strategy for attracting and keeping this diverse range of customers is to price at least some produce items as reasonably as possible.
“We seek to be the niche store for those who desire organic and those who want to try organic,” says Miller. “We have Gala and Fuji customers, and also adventurists who just want something good for their families. We work hard to share what is important to us at MOM’s with the communities and customers we serve.”
MOM’S Organic Market
10 Upper Rock Circle, Rockville, MD 20850
Mon-Sat, 9am-9pm; Sun, 9am-8pm
Naked Lunch Mon-Sun, 11am-7pm