Yoke’s Fresh Market

Yoke’s Fresh Market, headquartered in Spokane, WA, has taken the concept of being a neighborhood grocer and translated it to 19 stores in Washington, Montana and Idaho.

Northwest market is committed to exceeding customer expectations with freshness, quality and a neighborhood feel.

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Yoke’s Fresh Market, headquartered in Spokane, WA, has taken the concept of being a neighborhood grocer and translated it to 19 stores in various communities in Washington, Montana and Idaho.

The company’s latest inclusion is the purchase and renovation of a store in Missoula, MT.

“We purchased the store in August of 2022,” says Jim Sullivan, Yoke’s produce merchandiser. “It was a diamond in the rough. We gutted, stripped and re-did the entire store. The remodel grand opening was last November 2023. It’s a big store and we really like what was done and where it’s going.”

Yoke’s takes pride in being customer-centric in all its stores.

“When Marshall and Harriet Yoke opened their first store in 1946, customers were the first priority,” says Sullivan. “We sell what customers want, not what we want to sell — that’s a crucial philosophy for us. And, we work hard to keep a family-run feel in our stores. In 1990, our stores became employee-owned, giving all our staff value in the store.”

Being a neighborhood grocer is a forte Yoke’s has successfully replicated.

“The Missoula neighborhood already has Walmart, Albertsons and other big retailers,” says Sullivan. “We wanted to keep our focus on being the local grocery store, staying competitive but also providing freshness and quality. It’s a place where customers can buy everything they want in one store at a reasonable price. Our promise is to create a better experience, in and beyond the store.”


The Missoula store encompasses 55,000 square feet with a 3,000-square-foot produce department. The remodel focused heavily on developing a fresh perception for the store, a crucial aspect of Yoke’s business model.

“In the store’s previous condition, freshness was not really a key component,” says Sullivan. “We wanted to emphasize freshness to our customers. It’s the main component of our stores everywhere, so it was important to provide this store with the freshness, quality, and selection Yoke’s is known for.”

Just a few months after the grand reopening, produce’s percent contribution to overall sales in the store is at about 9%. “That is a 1.25% increase in just one year,” says Sullivan. “It goes to show that more people are getting to know they can come in and get great fresh produce at this store. We do envision it growing even more — it’s about a percent lower right now compared to our other stores.”


Just like all of Yoke’s stores, produce is the first thing customers see upon entering the Missoula store.
“We always make produce the focus as soon as shoppers walk in the door,” says Blaine Eckley, produce specialist at Yoke’s. “Keeping produce at the forefront is one of the things all our leadership has instilled in us. We’re a fresh market, and that’s what we want to stand by. As soon as shoppers walk in the store, they don’t see processed stuff, they see oranges, apples or grapes. It sets the image of what the store is.”

The abundant department holds close to 400 SKUs just in fresh.

“We’re constantly adding more SKUs,” says Sullivan. “Across the board, including dry items, we’re probably at about 600 SKUs. Managing all the new varieties is tricky. We do a lot of replacing when some varieties become obsolete, and we can replace them with newer ones. We’re always trying to find what’s new, what’s cool, what’s the latest thing we can get for customers to try.”

High-quality displays with affordable pricing are key to the produce department’s success at Yoke’s Fresh Market.

High-quality displays with affordable pricing are key to the department’s success. “We want customers to know they can come in and get a high-quality product for a good value,” says Sullivan. “We do price checks every other week with competitors. We beat ourselves up all the time trying to stay price competitive with the bigger chains, but still maintain quality.”

Eckley points out the importance of being able to offer a lower price without lowering the quality.

“Some stores will downgrade the quality, but then that’s not a value,” he says. “You’re giving customers a cheaper piece of fruit, and that’s what we don’t want our customers to feel. We don’t downsize or lower the grade to offer a better price. We stick with the best price we can give on the high-quality stuff. We want our customers to walk out feeling they got a great product for a great price.”


To keep the fresh, neighborhood atmosphere, the store uses natural display elements in merchandising. “We want a fresh look, but we don’t want it to be box-store displays,” says Sullivan. “Our objective is a hometown, fresh feel and appearance, so we incorporate a lot of natural materials into our merchandising.”

The store has replaced Euro tables with wood pallets and troughs, and most of the tables are pallet tables, says Sullivan. “We’ll stack six to eight pallets high with the top one slanted. These pallets are custom-made for us, and they’re movable because they’re pallets. We also use a lot of troughs. We’ll put corn, melons or apples in them to display.”

Some of the store’s side displays are custom-made cedar shadowboxes, which provide a natural look.

“We want a clean, fresh look that is consistent with our other stores. It’s important to have the same look, atmosphere, and feeling when someone walks into any of our stores. We want our customers to know they’re walking into a Yoke’s. Fresh is part of our name so we want customers to see that freshness,” says Eckley.


Yoke’s relies on its local wholesalers for sourcing. “We value our wholesalers for all they give us,” says Sullivan. “We use them especially for reasons of traceability and accountability in all our products, even our local.”

Sullivan mentions the company’s No. 1 supplier is Peirone Produce in Spokane, WA. “We do most of our business with them — about 70%,” he says. “They’re a co-op wholesaler/distributor, and we’re part of that. They do an outstanding job for us. If we’re looking for something, they go out and find it for us.”

Yoke’s sources the other 25% from a wholesale company in the Kent, WA/Portland, OR, area.

Not surprisingly, the store’s decisive factor when sourcing produce is quality. “Quality is always the No. 1 thing I’m looking for,” says Sullivan. “You can buy anything cheap, but that doesn’t sell.”


The store uses a combination of online, traditional and in-store promotions. Sullivan explains they are testing the effectiveness of a paperless strategy. “Currently, we do three weeks of not putting an insert in the paper,” he says. “Going paperless is a trend, but we didn’t want to just drop out and shock our customers, so we’re doing it little by little and getting feedback from our customers.”

The company also utilizes targeted direct mailing. “For the Missoula store’s grand re-opening, we did multiple mailers to customers,” says Sullivan. “When we opened up the store, we did mailers for four straight weeks. And, we always have all our ads online.”

The real promotion focus, however, is in-store. “We do a lot of in-store promoting,” says Sullivan. “We have what we call a Fresh Market Value. We take eight produce items and run them for three months at a Value Price. These products can be anything from potatoes to lettuce to salad dressing. We look for high-volume items for this promotion. Other departments in the store do it as well with their items.”

Eckley mentions both he and Sullivan are in the stores frequently, helping with training and support, and the chain also has two meetings a year with all produce managers.

“We stand behind what we believe in, and we treat everyone with respect and fairness, says Sullivan. “In our company, everyone is a name, not just a number. Everyone must be treated with respect and valued, from employee to customer. We expect that if our staff can’t help a customer, they find someone who can.”


Yoke’s Fresh Market
3801 S. Reserve St., Missoula, MT
Phone: 406-251-3311
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m., daily