Rising crime is causing some companies to exit the Portland, Ore., market. But thanks to a unique, community-centered model, hometown grocer New Seasons Market isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving.
Portland, Ore,-based New Seasons Market was founded in 2000 by three families and their friends who believed in the power of great-tasting local food to build community and enhance lives. Less than a quarter century later, the first grocer in the world to earn B Corp certification operates 19 supermarkets in the Portland metro area and Southwest Washington, with three new stores scheduled to open soon. Clearly, those folks were on to something!
To learn more about this up-and-coming chain, we sat down for a chat with Dave Kauder, senior vp of merchandising, marketing and store development. Here’s what he had to say about the company’s unique approach to retailing, what’s happening in the frozen and refrigerated departments and why it all works:
Why is New Seasons Market such a great fit for Portland (and vice versa)?
There is a reason New Seasons Market started in Portland. In our 23 years, we’ve formed a remarkable partnership rooted in shared values of local sourcing, sustainability, community engagement and a commitment to both our staff and customers.
First and foremost, New Seasons Market is a champion of local. We prioritize sourcing products from nearby farmers, artisans and producers, ensuring that our customers have access to fresh, high-quality goods while supporting the regional food economy.
Our dedication to sustainability goes hand in hand with our focus on local. We understand the importance of pre- serving our planet for future generations, which is why we carefully select products and suppliers that meet rigorous sustainability standards. From organically grown produce to responsibly sourced seafood, we offer a wide range of sustainable options that prioritize the health of both our customers and the environment.
But our relationship with the community goes beyond just sourcing local products. We actively engage with local organizations, participate in community initiatives and events, and support charitable partnerships. We believe that by investing in our community, we can create a positive impact that extends far beyond our store walls.
None of this would be possible without our dedicated staff. We believe that our staff is the heart and soul of our organization. We value their expertise, passion and commitment, and strive to create a supportive and inclusive work environment. Their knowledge and friendly service play a crucial role in delivering an exceptional shopping experience for our customers, fostering a sense of community within our stores.
Ultimately, New Seasons Market is more than just a grocery store; it’s a community-driven hub. We’re proud to serve the Portland market, where like-minded individuals come together to support local businesses, prioritize sustainability and build strong, connected communities.
What’s your philosophy on frozen food and what role does it play at NSM? Have you given the department more space and, if so, what frozen food categories are you expanding?
At New Seasons Market, our philosophy on frozen food is rooted in providing our customers with high-quality, convenient and sustainable
options. We recognize that frozen food can be a practical solution for those seeking longer shelf life and easy meal preparation.
The role frozen food plays at New Seasons Market is significant. We understand that our customers have diverse needs and preferences, which is why we offer a wide range of frozen food options to cater to different dietary requirements. Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, are an essential part of our selection as they retain their nutrients and can be enjoyed year-round.
The pandemic did, indeed, increase demand for frozen food as consumers sought convenient and long-lasting options. To meet this increased demand, we have given the frozen food department more space, particularly in our newer stores. This allows us to offer an expanded range of frozen food categories and products.
Some of the frozen food categories we have expanded include plant-based alternatives, vegan and vegetarian meals, gluten-free options and organic frozen desserts. Overall, our focus continues to be on offering high-quality and sustainable frozen food options while ensuring a diverse and well-rounded selection throughout our stores.
What are the fastest growing frozen food categories at NSM, and what are the newest additions to your frozen food lineup?
One of the fastest-growing frozen food categories at New Seasons Market is plant-based alternatives. As more individuals adopt a flexitarian or vegan lifestyle, the demand for plant-based frozen options continues to rise. Consumers are seeking convenient and delicious plant-based alternatives to traditional animal-based products. From plant-based burgers and sausages to dairy-free ice creams, our frozen plant-based offerings have seen a remarkable increase in popularity.
Another rapidly growing category is frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and flash-frozen, ensuring optimal flavor and nutritional value.
As we continue to prioritize sustainability, we are also working to expand our selection of locally sourced frozen foods, supporting local producers and reducing the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation.
What about refrigerated foods?
There is growing interest among our customers in products that offer functional benefits beyond basic nutrition. Items such as
probiotic-rich yogurts, kombucha, kefir, and other fermented foods fall into this category. Customers value these products for their potential to support gut health and overall well-being.
[In addition,] our customers have always prioritized supporting local producers and artisans. We have seen strong growth in categories such as locally sourced dairy products, hand-crafted cheeses, locally made dips and spreads, as well as specialty items from small-batch producers.
Similar to frozen, we have also seen a significant increase in demand for plant-based products among our customers, including plant-based milks, yogurts, cheeses, meat substitutes and more.
Your Partner Brand program differs from most retailers’ private label programs in that most products are made within 500 miles of Portland AND you put the manufacturer’s name on the front of the package rather than trying to hide it. Why do you take that approach?
Our roots within our community run deep, so it made sense to approach private label in a less traditional way by creating a brand that supports local producers and, at the same time, builds a healthy regional food economy. We also know our customers are label-readers and were early adopters of understanding where their food comes from, so providing seed-to-shelf transparency with each of our Partner Brand products is a top priority. We’ve actually had customers call our partners directly and ask questions about our products. I guarantee no other private label brand would allow that type of customer-producer connection. All these factors create differentiation between our brand and our competition.
What role does Wild Harvest play?
Wild Harvest is widely distributed across many different UNFI customers, so we don’t consider it our private label. Because of the selection of products and the fact that the majority are organic, [Wild Harvest] provides us with a brand to position against Whole Foods 365 and Simple Truth on key items; but we don’t position it under our portfolio of brands.
We stock about 300 Wild Harvest items and use many of them as entry-level price points in our high-volume center store categories.
In terms of special events or promotions, do you do anything cool or different with frozen or refrigerated foods? In what other ways does New Seasons Market manage these two departments differently than conventional retailers?
Throughout the year, we host special events and promotions [that] showcase the variety and quality of our frozen and refrigerated foods. Our annual “Summer of Scoops” — where we highlight two different ice creams (one tradition- al, one plant-based) each week throughout the summer — is a favorite. During this event, we provide in-store samples and discounts on popular frozen treats. It’s a great opportunity for customers to discover new products!
In addition to special events, we also strive to make the shopping experience at New Seasons Market different from the experience at conventional retailers based on how we manage our frozen and refrigerated food departments.
First, we prioritize offering a wide selection of artisan-crafted, locally sourced and sustainably produced frozen and refrigerated products. We partner closely with local producers to bring their products to our shelves, sup- porting our communities and reducing the environmental impact of long-distance transportation.
Second, we carefully curate our displays and endcaps to showcase seasonal and specialty items. We believe that visually appealing displays not only catch the customer’s eye, but also tell a story. Our displays and endcaps often highlight products from local producers or limited-edition seasonal offerings.
Furthermore, we prioritize transparency in our labeling and provide detailed information about the sourcing and production practices of our frozen and refrigerated products. We want our customers to make informed choices that align with their values, whether they are looking for organic, non-GMO or other attributes.
What makes your Neighbor Rewards program different from other loyalty programs?
We love our Neighbor Rewards program! For each dollar our customers spend at our store, they receive one point (with a handful of exceptions, like alcohol, postage stamps, bottle deposits, donations, taxes and gift cards). As a bonus, when they purchase our Partner Brand products, they receive two points per dollar as a thank you for supporting local makers; and they receive 10 points per visit when they bring in reusable bags or containers. When they reach 500 points, they earn a $5 reward to use on any purchase within 45 days, which they are reminded of at check out.
A unique aspect of Neighbor Rewards is that we allow customers to Gift It! by putting their reward where their heart is. They can give the rewards dollars they earned (or a portion of them) to a featured local partner, such as a non-profit, neighborhood organization or social initiative.
Members who are opted-in to Neighbor Rewards communications also receive offers for additional savings on things like their total basket, a percentage off or dollars off on a featured department or even a free item i.e. 15% off meat and seafood, 20% off produce or $5 off a $10 purchase in our deli.
As a thank you to Neighbor Rewards members for opting-in to communications, we offer $10 off a $40 purchase when they sign up for our e-mails or text messages.
New Seasons gives so much back to the community, treats its partners fairly and takes good care of its associates, but is it profitable?
At New Seasons Market, we have a commitment to our triple bottom line: people, profit and planet. Since day one, our goal has been to build community through good food, and we do so by creating a positive and inclusive environment that fosters trust and loyalty.
While profitability is essential for the long- term success of any business, we believe it is a natural outcome of our dedication to the relationships we cultivate by living our core values.
As the first grocer to receive B Corp certification, we donate 10% of our after-tax profits to more than 1,000 local organizations supporting hunger relief, education and protecting the environment in our communities.
We hope to inspire other retailers by demonstrating that it is possible to prioritize community, fair partnerships, sustainability and staff well-being while maintaining financial profitability. By emphasizing these values, we not only contribute to the overall health and prosperity of our communities but also build a sustainable and resilient business.
FRED MEYER DOUBLES DOWN ON SECURITY
The Portland-based Kroger banner partners with the city to take a bite out of crime.
After experiencing record levels of theft and loss the past 12 months, Kroger-owned Fred Meyer recently entered a unique public-private partnership with the city of Port- land, Ore., to help fight crime in and around stores in its hometown.
The retailer has “long invested in crime deterrents and safety technology,” including security guards, public view monitors, locking cases for high-value items, security tags and cables, locking carts and exit alarms, says Fred Meyer president Todd Kammeyer. But newer measures developed in collaboration with the city of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau were put in place earlier this summer. They include an increased security presence; Costco-style advanced receipt verification; elevated safety protocols in stores, doorways and parking lots; and “significant investments in innovative security technology” — though Kammeyer didn’t specify what they might include. However, he says, “We are spending more than ever on safety and security measures to deter theft in our Portland stores.”
Customer response to the changes has been “very positive,” Kammeyer adds. “And we are already seeing a decrease in theft and safety incidents.”
While several retailers have left the Portland market, most notably Walmart, which closed its last two Portland stores earlier this year, Kammeyer says Fred Meyer is in it for the long haul. “Portland is our hometown, and we care deeply about this city.” He adds, “Fred Meyer has been Portland’s grocer since 1922, and we want to serve this community for another 100 years.”