In the world of grocery, we’re still rookies. When we got started in on-farm retail 14 years ago, we knew absolutely nothing. And, every time I’d think I had cracked the code, one of our earliest employees – herself a retail veteran – would remind me that retail is ever-changing. You’ll never figure it out. So, I love the chance to continue my education in the world of food retailing, and recently read “Becoming Trader Joe,” by (wait for it…), Joe Coulombe, a.k.a Trader Joe.
By now, most of us loosely know the Trader Joe’s grocery strategy. Lots of exclusive private label brands, not too many options, and pyramids of unique specialties. What I didn’t know was that Joe had a term for the ideal products he was seeking out: “discontinuous” items. Imagine the opposite of the mass-produced national brands that are widely available; they’re in continuous supply. Instead, Trader Joe’s made it big in the early years by discovering foods with limited availability, which prevented the big boxes from carrying them. Think Extra Large Eggs, or Vermont Maple Syrup.
Now that I have the term “discontinuous” in my retail jargon, I’m struck by how many of our local foods at Ferndale Market are – by nature of the local folks we work with – inherently discontinuous. As I write this, we’re at the end of the fleetingly-short season for Lorence’s asparagus, which will be followed by our short-but-definitely-sweet local strawberry season. Even our annual autumn apple pies from Sunrise Orchard or local honey are limited to what our neighborhood bakers and bees can produce in a season. Few of our products are fit for continuous national distribution, and that’s what makes it all so special. They’re discontinuous, and they’re distinctive to this area.
So, we may still be retail hacks 14 years into this grocery venture, but we’ve learned how to discover good local partners that make distinctive local foods. In these summer days ahead, I invite you to stop in at Ferndale Market and see what’s discontinuous today!