We first wrote about various box schemes and community supported agriculture as a phenomenon happening in the United Kingdom, with pieces you can see here, here and here.
But CSAs and other non-traditional mechanisms to connect consumers with the farm are blossoming all over America and posing a problem for conventional retailing: How to deal with this new competition.
Beating them is tough because consumers who purchase from CSAs are generally seeking things that retailers will strain to deliver. For example they may believe the product is fresher or enjoy telling their children about a specific farmer.
Now, at least, one innovative US retailer has decided that if you can’t beat them, join them.
Kings Super Markets, based in Parsippany, New Jersey, a 25-store chain that also owns 5 Balducci’s, has announced a new program:
JOIN KINGS IN SUPPORTING LOCAL FARMERS…
IT GOES DEEPER THAN DELICIOUS
Parsippany, New Jersey — This summer Kings introduces a new, first-of-its-kind program for our customers in the Short Hills area who love fresh, local produce. Memberships will be offered in our Kings CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which will offer a choice supply of the best of the week’s harvest and an up-close connection to the nearby farms that supply us.
Customers commit in advance to purchasing a full season of produce from the Kings CSA. Kings members or “share-holders” of the CSA partnership pay a $25 “membership” fee in advance to join this local farmer support program. In exchange, consumers get a family-size mix of whatever is best, ripest and ready at the farm each week. Kings CSA will be supplied products from several nearby farms in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, including local farmers, Joe Maugeri, Alex Tonetta and James Weaver.
To become a Kings CSA member, consumers sign up for an 8-week subscription starting June 25th in our Kings Short Hills cooking studio or call 973.258.4009 or 973.463.6500. Then each week for an additional $25 you will receive perfectly harvested, locally grown fruits and veggies to be picked up Saturday mornings 9am — 11am in our Short Hills cooking studio located at 778 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills, New Jersey.
Through our partnership, Kings CSA will bring consumers an exciting new experience, providing local farm fresh produce at fantastic value. It goes deeper than delicious.
You can see here the flyer Kings is using to promote the program.
It is a very good idea. Although we may think of CSAs as competition for conventional retailers, the fact that a CSA delivers what the farmer produced and a supermarket sells what a customer wants to buy, means that there is a great possibility for synergy.
By cleverly arranging to have consumers pick up the CSA box at the store, Kings is making it easy for consumers to plan meals when they receive their box of local produce. Perhaps the box contains beets — and the consumer will buy onions to make a beet-and-onion salad. Or perhaps the box contains local lettuce, and the consumer will buy tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, onions, peppers, croutons and salad dressing to make a salad.
It goes beyond produce. If there are some apricots in the box, maybe the consumer will buy a pork loin to go with an apricot glaze. Or they will buy ice cream and whipped cream to go with peaches.
One thing we would suggest is that retailers, as they explore things such as CSA schemes, should not feel limited to aping the existing programs. Though CSAs have certainly shown that there is a market for supporting specific local farmers, the world has many customers, and supermarket chains should play to their strengths, which are different than the local CSAs that exist around the country.
For example, most local CSAs don’t typically have the capability of offering a “USDA Certified Organic” box, but supermarkets could and, somewhere in this great country, there is a market. In the winter, maybe a northeast chain such as Kings could say “our buyers travel the globe to select the greatest delicacies from all corners of the earth” and offer a box from the tropics and southern hemisphere. There are probably customers for that as well.
Beyond the specifics of this idea, the Kings program offers another win for the industry: namely, Kings is back. There was a time, under the ownership of the Bildner family, in which Kings was a font of innovation. A leader in ethnic foods, baking in-store the first croissants baked in an American supermarket chain, its produce department, under the leadership of Sid Feinstein and its deli/bakery department under Ed Edelstein attracted visitors from around the world.
The chain atrophied after the sale to Marks & Spencer in 1988 but now, under new ownership, it seems to be coming back. In produce, this is personified by the hiring of Paul Kneeland, formerly Vice President of Produce and Floral at Roche Bros. and winner of the PRODUCE BUSINESS/New England Produce Retailer of the Year Award, award presented at New England Produce Council meeting in 2005. Paul is civic-minded; he serves as Vice President on the Eastern Produce Council and as Chairman of the EPC Convention Committee, in which capacity we’ve had the pleasure of working with him on The New York Produce Show and Conference. But Paul is also aware of the unique opportunity he has to build the produce program at Kings.
Despite its smaller stores, due to the affluence and density in its marketing area, Kings can do things that many others would struggle to get adequate movement to support. Paul is intent on leveraging its marketing opportunities to restore Kings to the position it once held as among the most innovative produce marketers. Innovation spreads, so having a new innovator can only help us all.