Specialty Food Magazine

MAY-JUN 2013

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Tom Scott and Steve Maass Oliver's O Market liver's pioneered the crossover between conventional and natural supermarkets in the Bay Area, and today provides a one-stop shopping experience in Sonoma County, Calif., with three locations and a heavy emphasis on truly local products. History…Founded in 1972 by Steve Maass, who started by selling produce off the back of his truck in San Francisco, Oliver's has expanded to a three-store independently owned and operated chain of natural/specialty supermarkets, known for pioneering the crossover concept in the Bay Area. "We were the first store to fully integrate conventional and natural back in the late 1980s," says Tom Scott, vice president and general manager of Oliver's. "We had a little natural food aisle and it never worked. It wasn't until we just went for it and expanded our original store and integrated natural with conventional that got us going." Gross sales amounted to $85 million in 2012, with each store—ranging in size from 27,000 to 36,000 square feet—carrying between 35,000 and 45,000 items, depending on store and season. Points of Distinction…"We're constantly looking for ways to add value on the shelves," Scott says. "We use only the best ingredients and hire [Culinary Institute of America–] trained chefs." But the biggest decision to change the face of the business happened four years ago, when "we doubled down on becoming the local supermarket." The business defines local as products made in Sonoma County, a much smaller geographic definition than its competitors. Last year, Oliver's purchased more than 5,200 SKUs from 300 local farms, and now local offerings are growing faster than the rest of the mix. "We've seen that 27 percent of dollar sales comes from Sonoma County products and we call that out for the customer at the bottom of every receipt." When people buy local, the money gets reinvested in the community. According to a study by Sonoma State University, every $100 spent at Oliver's on local goods versus buying the same goods at a national or regional chain has at least a 32 percent larger economic impact on Sonoma County. "This has had a real impact on how people see us," Scott says. "Local was a game changer." And while local is a major focus, the beauty of the store is its expansive variety. "You can buy Budweiser or Belgian ales," Scott says. "The idea is to have a one-stop shop where we're fairly priced and friendly with excellent choices." The staff are experts, like Colette Hatch, an industry-renowned cheese educator and expert, who leads the cheese department, and wine buyer Richard Williams, who specializes in Sonoma County wines. Oliver's has also partnered with a local meat farmer in Petaluma who provides Hick's Valley Grass Fed Beef exclusively to the store. Year Opened: 1972 Locations: Cotati, CA; Santa Rosa, CA Type of Business: Natural/specialty/conventional supermarket Outstanding Features: Extensive local offerings, award-winning bakery and daily market specials Contact: Tom Scott oliversmarket.com How It Keeps Innovating…Oliver's advertisements are beautifully illustrated with a punch of modern tech thanks to QR codes. "Our target market is still baby boomers, but most of my employees are millennials so, in five to seven years, they're going to be my customers," Scott notes, adding that social media and tech-based tools like QR codes are playing more of a role. One new initiative is the daily market special. "If I get a local farmer with just enough eggplant for one day, I can promote it in one store," Scott explains. This flexibility gives him access to high-quality products he couldn't stock before. "This way we can make a much better deal a day or two out and offer better deals and better products. It's the coolest thing we've been working on and it gets our employees really fired up."—D.S. 64 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com

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