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2022 Outstanding Independents
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02/11/2022

15 Outstanding Independents That Dare to Stand Apart

Progressive Grocer celebrates forward-thinking indies in annual award program
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Goldschmidt profile picture

Independent grocers are often advised that to keep ahead of the competition, they need to develop a unique offering that will attract and retain customers. Accordingly, for this iteration of Progressive Grocer’s Outstanding Independents, we’ve decided to focus on the ways that each of the 15 food retailers profiled in below has differentiated itself from the rest, fellow indies and major grocery players alike. These differences range from creating memorable prepared food menus unlike anything else on the market to completely rethinking the concept of “local.”

This isn’t to say that the retailers in question don’t stand apart in ways other than those that PG is recognizing them for, only that we were especially impressed by their creativity in particular spheres. From single-store operators to regional chains, these independent grocers strive every day to inspire and delight their customers, and we at PG were likewise inspired and delighted by their various success stories.

It’s never an easy task to choose from among the submissions we receive, each telling a highly personal story of how each retailer not only managed to survive, but also to thrive, in its given market, often encountering hardships along the way, but still able to triumph and even pay the fruits of its labor forward by helping the less fortunate in its community. Indeed, independents share the kind of tight bond with neighborhood residents that many larger operators envy, since independent store owners come from the same places as their shoppers and understand the needs of those customers better than anyone else.

As the retail industry continues to grapple with a lingering pandemic and its exacerbation of supply chain and staffing issues, the achievements of these indies take on even more meaning. Read on to learn more about how they maintain a standard of excellence that others can only dream of.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
BriarPatch Food Co-op has relationships with such local vendors as Lisa Carle, from Pyramid Farms, a certified-organic farm in Chico, Calif.

BriarPatch Food Co-op

Grass Valley, Calif.

Number of Stores: 1

Since 1976, BriarPatch Food Co-op has served as a vibrant hub serving shoppers who live, work and play in the Sierra Foothills of California. The cooperative grocer promotes a resilient community and sustainable local economy by supporting businesses, organizations and brands committed to a healthy, equitable world.

For many years, BriarPatch’s definition of “local” meant items grown or produced within 20 miles of its flagship location in Grass Valley, Calif. “Local” also included working with farmers who deliver directly to the store, regardless of distance. However, as the grocer prepares to open a second store more than 20 miles away from its original location within the coming year, it has radically rethought the meaning of “local.”

After some consideration, BriarPatch decided that rather than rely upon a human-made definition of the term, such as mileage or county lines, it would turn to nature for inspiration. As a California business, it has a keen awareness of the value of water, having endured an increasing number of droughts and shortages in recent years, and so opted to determine “local” based on where the water flows that sustains its community, farmers and suppliers.
In his book “The State of Water,” author and artist 

Obi Kaufmann describes a watershed as “a geographic area defined by how a single system of liquid water moves above and below ground to supply essential habitat for either a single ecosystem or a network of connected ecosystems. … A watershed can include many different climate types and run through many different environments, yet is always connected by common drainage.”

BriarPatch realized that a watershed is a complex system of interconnectedness: What happens upstream affects downstream. “In a sense, it is a metaphor for our cooperative community,” the grocer explains. “It’s also a reminder that with our expansion comes responsibility as we become increasingly linked: to connect our shoppers and producers to a world that becomes increasingly ‘smaller’ through technology as BriarPatch grows larger.”

As a result of this thought process, the co-op’s revised definition of “local” coincides with the Sacramento River Hydrologic Region. These boundaries aren’t man-made, but rather are determined by nature, and give the grocer room to grow in the future, beyond its current market area. According to BriarPatch, basing its “local” area on a natural region allows increased opportunities for its shoppers and employees to think about the environment and their contributions, relationship and responsibility to it.

The grocer is currently in the midst of preparing activities, events and learning opportunities to make this new “local” tangible, experiential and more meaningful by deepening shoppers’ connection to, and awareness of, the natural world. These actions include an interview with Kaufmann in the Spring 2022 issue of its quarterly magazine, “The Vine”; developing supportive relationships with organizations dedicated to environmental issues, including in areas beyond the counties where it operates, such as Bear Yuba Land Trust, Placer Land Trust, South Yuba River Citizens League, Sierra Harvest and Chambers of Commerce, throughout its newly expanded “local” area; and engaging in-store cross-promotional opportunities with brands that focus on environmental messaging and help increase awareness of where consumers’ food comes from and the economic impacts of their buying choices.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Edith’s CEO Elyssa Heller says tradition with a twist is what makes Edith’s special, along with the emphasis on food quality and its story.

Edith’s Eatery & Grocery

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Number of Stores: 1

Beginning life as a pop-up shop in the summer of 2020 with an investment of just $8,000, Edith’s Eatery & Grocery has now grown into a new flagship location, on 312 Leonard Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., that carries hard-to-find grocery items, a full dining menu featuring innovative versions of classic Jewish dishes, and a robust house-made program, highlighted throughout the menu and the deli case, and featuring such items as smoked fish, breads and pickles.

Initially supposed to last just eight weeks, the pop-up immediately went viral, enabling Edith’s to become a permanent jewel-size fast-casual sandwich shop in Williamsburg, attracting diners from near and far. The retailer’s latest iteration, which officially opened Jan. 18, following a soft opening on Jan. 11, promises “an entirely new kind of grocery shopping and dining experience — one that you’re encouraged to both explore in store and take home with you.” Edith’s likens the ambiance to that of legendary New York City deli Zabar’s. 

Edith’s founder/CEO Elyssa Heller, who once created supply chain solutions for brands such as Milk Bar and Dylan’s Candy Bar, offers food influenced by the Jewish diaspora, exploring the global flavors and cultural experience of Jewish cuisine.

“After spending 10 years on the consumer side of the food industry working with different CPG brands, I always wanted to give the restaurant industry a try,” Heller tells Progressive Grocer. “I felt like there was room for my point of view within the Jewish food space and wanted to try it out on a small scale with the pop-up to see how my concepts around Jewish food would resonate with guests. On the first day of the pop-up, we opened to two-and-a-half-hour lines down the block, and since then, I’ve never looked back.”

The store started off with an all-day café menu, with dinner offered later this spring. Dishes include Malawach, laminated Yemenite Jewish flatbread; Kasha Porridge, a buckwheat oatmeal with seasonal fruit and nuts; Syrniki Pancakes, traditional Russian-style pancakes with a Japanese soufflé, tart currant syrup and smetana (sour cream); Labneh Parfait with Chickpea Granola, consisting of tangy yogurt with seasonal fruit, house-made crunchy chickpea granola and ancient Middle Eastern honey; Chicken consommé containing mini matzo balls, vegetables and bitter herb; and a Smoked Fish Plate featuring a trio of seasonal house-smoked fishes: salmon, Arctic char and whitefish dip. According to Heller, who develops the recipes with Edith’s team of chefs, “The core menu will stay the same, while we will rotate seasonal specials.”

Meanwhile, Edith’s grocery offering turns the spotlight on Jewish food staples, including traditional appetizers as well as unique assorted treats, complemented by historical information inspiring guests to try new ingredients and learn about their history. The store will also carry such exclusive products as Emmett’s Frozen Tavern Pies and collaborative items with Pierozek Pierogi, Petee’s Pie (Tahini Chess Pie) and La Boite (Everything Spice). Noting that Edith’s is “showcasing people who may not have the infrastructure to sell to traditional grocery stores, but who make amazing food that is rooted in tradition,” Heller promises more brand partnerships in the works that will roll out seasonally.

The flagship store is just the beginning of the story, however.

“We are putting a plan in place for what the future of Edith’s could look like now that we have found success in multiple formats — our flagship-style restaurant-retail hybrid, as well as fast casual,” says Heller. “Tradition with a twist is what makes Edith’s special, along with the emphasis on food quality and our story. This time last year, we were a team of three cooking on a folding table at our pop-up in the back of Paulie Gee’s pizzeria; now we have a team of over 20 and two locations. The fact that we have been able to do this during a pandemic has me really excited for what the future holds for Edith’s.”

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Having achieved B Corp Certification in the past year, Erewhon is focused on opening new stores, but at its own pace.

Erewhon

Los Angeles

Number of Stores: 7

The year 2021 was a year of various achievements for Erewhon — the opening of its seventh Los Angeles-area store, in Studio City, the adoption of exciting tech to support its e-commerce operation — but none was perhaps more meaningful than when, in June of last year, the organic grocer and café earned B Corp Certification, a designation awarded to companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. B Corps must also undergo verification every three years to maintain certification.

“That’s probably one of the biggest milestones in Erewhon’s timeline, at least so far,” agrees Kabir Jain, the company’s chief growth officer. “We feel like we’ve been living the mantra that B Corps live by, for a long time. Using business as a force for good, thinking about the way we can inspire everyone, from the communities to the employees to the vendor relationships, et cetera. But this was a stamp that we’ve known of and wanted to have. There are very few retailers that have it. There are even fewer grocery stores that have it. We’re definitely one of the first in the U.S., [and] we were super excited. It’s a really daunting, long, arduous process, as it should be.”

According to Jain, the months-long road to certification took a “lot of work, from top leadership all the way down to front-line employees. What we loved about it was it forced us to take a really hard look in the mirror at what we do and how we operate, all parts of the business. We learned about where we exceed, we learned about where we have areas of opportunity. … It really helped us recognize the areas where we [can] spend extra time, spend extra effort, spend extra money to do the right thing.”

As for the effect of the certification on shoppers and associates, he notes: “The common consumer has heard about B Corps. They see the stamp on the wall. They see it inside the store and in the employee rooms, and [it] just gives a real sense of pride for everyone.”

Beyond bragging rights and the deeper confidence it gives customers and employees, the B Corp designation has become “a foundation … of our training now,” says VP Jason Widener. “We have a really, really robust learning management system that we use for everyone that joins the company, from the top down, through [software company] Wisetail. … The core values of B Corps are kind of aligned with our core values as a company, which is really cool, and that’s how we teach our employees. Ultimately, that appreciation for health and wellness and changing people’s lives just becomes infectious. It all kind of goes hand in hand.”

As for the company’s further growth, future stores in Beverly Hills and Culver City are in the works, but the company is content to take its time to find the correct locations. “We’re so focused on the community and just making it right that we’ve been tiptoeing into [expansion] very slowly,” explains Jain. “The owners, Tony and Josephine Antoci, [are] so dialed into the details of every little aspect, the look, the feel, the vibe, the subcategories of the selection, and taking into account the community that we’re serving. … One of our mantras is, you’re either in front of it or you’re behind it. And the way that we stay in front of it is by moving at a slow pace.”

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Balls Food Stores remodeled or replaced four locations in 2021, including two Ball’s Price Chopper locations in Missouri and a Ball’s Price Chopper in Kansas to make them more energy-efficient and customer-friendly.

Balls Food Stores

Kansas City, Kan.

Number of Stores: 26

Ninety-nine years ago, Sidney and Mollie Ball opened a corner market in Kansas City, and nearly a century later, the Ball family is still serving its neighbors in supermarkets operating under four banners in the Kansas City market.

In addition to being a trusted local retailer noted for its extensive philanthropy in support of various causes, Balls Food Stores is an originator of the local food movement in the area. Working with more than 150 local growers, the grocer provides the largest selection of natural and sustainable products in Kansas City, and is a proud supporter of the Buy Fresh Buy Local network. Since 1923, when the company founder would go out in his pickup truck, buy local produce and bring it back to sell at the small corner store, Balls Food Stores has been steadfast in its commitment to local farmers.

Further, Balls Food Stores remodeled or replaced four locations in 2021 — a Hen House Market in Olathe, Kan., two Ball’s Price Chopper locations in Kansas City, Mo.; and a Ball’s Price Chopper in Leavenworth, Kan. – to make them more energy-efficient and customer-friendly. For instance, the stores now feature high-efficiency refrigeration and LED lighting, as well as a conscientious recycling program and a zero-waste policy for excess food.

“I take great pride in serving our customers, teammates and local farmers, and in being the third generation of this local family-owned company as we continue our 99th year of growth in this community,” says President and CEO David Ball. “The traditions that have guided this honored journey will remain strong.”

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2022 Outstanding Independents
County Market has seen success with its revamped personalized rewards program, MAXValue, supported by tcc Global.

County Market/Niemann Foods

Quincy, Ill.

Number of Stores: 39

Over the past year, County Market has revamped its personalized rewards program, MAXvalue, with the goal of combining high-value loyalty rewards and digital mobile games to keep County Market top of mind with consumers and give them new reasons to shop at the retailer’s stores. 

The Midwestern grocer introduced the program in early 2021 with the Back to the Table campaign, which featured MAXvalue Card loyalty point redemption for KitchenAid cookware. The campaign’s aim was to retain COVID-related sales increases as virus restrictions eased and consumers began to socialize again.

County Market then launched the Take It Outside digital mobile game, which motivated customers to visit an in-store seasonal display of grilling and outdoor dining products. Customers played the digital game every day to win prizes and enter a grand-prize drawing for a Weber grill. The daily prizes were redeemable in-store, which drove incremental traffic and enabled the retailer to build a database of digitally engaged customers.

Finally, the Company is Coming campaign started in the fall and ran through the holiday season. It featured MAXvalue Card loyalty point redemption for MasterChef ovenware. The all-digital campaign rewarded customers for their patronage as the critical holiday shopping season approached.

Supported by customer loyalty solutions provider tcc Global, the year-long effort led to same-store sales rises, increased customer trips and bigger baskets, as well as higher Maxvalue Card penetration, member sales and member transactions. MAXvalue Card member average basket also grew and MAXvalue Card penetration, as a percent of total sales, increased 33%.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Wellness is one of the fastest-growing departments at family-owned Detwiler’s Farm Market.

Detwiler’s Farm Market

Sarasota, Fla.

Number of Stores: 5

Wellness is one of the fastest-growing departments at family-owned Detwiler’s Farm Market. As its website explains: “Most stores charge you and arm and a leg for overpriced supplements while offering every brand under the sun — many of which might be of inferior quality! Because of the high price tag and overwhelming selection of competing brands, they sell fewer products and can’t offer their customers the best possible value. That’s not our business model. We would rather carry only the highest-quality national brands and offer you the best possible price.” In fact, Detwiler’s strives for its wellness offerings “to be price competitive with even the biggest internet retailers.”

For instance, the company’s wellness flyer for January featured a buy-one-get-one-50%-off deal on 200-plus items. Brands included such well-known names as Ancient Nutrition, Jarrow and Dr. Bronner’s, along with local purveyors like Jason’s Elderberry Syrup.

In addition to the superior quality and value of the wellness products at its University, Clark Road and Palmetto locations, which feature a wide range of vitamins, minerals and supplements in liquid, powder, capsule and other forms, all meticulously organized in spacious departments, the grocer vows “unmatched” customer service.

Detwiler’s isn’t just about wellness, though, or even the loads of fresh produce that the “Farm Market” part of its name correctly implies. The grocer also boasts a full-service butcher shop, a seafood shop, an Amish-style deli brimming with meats and cheeses, natural grocery aisles, a farmhouse bakery offering scratch-made treats, and an old-fashioned ice cream shop serving up locally made ice cream. 

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Grand & Essex Market first opened its doors in 2013 as Bergen County, N.J.’s first high-end, kosher market.

Grand & Essex Market

Bergenfield, N.J.

Number of Stores: 1

Grand & Essex Market first opened its doors in 2013 as Bergen County, N.J.’s first high-end, kosher market, with a name evoking the “old neighborhood” of New York’s Lower East Side. Thanks to such offerings as extraordinary customer care, an award-winning butcher department, a devotion to community responsibility, an in-store health coach, a robust e-commerce business and a renowned full-service takeout department, the store has proved so popular that it recently embarked on its second expansion in nine years, which will double the location’s size.

“Customer service is our top priority” explains owner Fred (Shia) Schonfeld. “Seeing how crowded the store gets before the weekend and around the holidays, with lines out the door, we knew we had to create the best shopping experience by making Grand & Essex bigger and better. The added space will make G&E a more comfortable, aesthetically pleasing place to shop.”

New features include a larger sushi department with a poké bar; a carving station with assorted meats, among them the grocer’s own specialty smoked meats; an extensive produce department; full-service salad and sandwich bars; and a wok station where customers can place orders, shop and then pick up dinner. Additional sit-down bars will be added to several departments, allowing customers to stop for a quick bite, check messages or catch up with friends. The remodeled store will also get a new, larger kitchen to facilitate Grand & Essex’s growing catering business. The two-phase expansion project’s first phase began in December 2021, with the second phase planned to start in February.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Hugo’s Family Marketplace opened its newest location, Hugo’s Pure Market, in downtown Grand Forks early this year.

Hugo’s Family Marketplace

Grand Forks, N.D.

Number of Stores: 11

Hugo’s Family Marketplace has been around since 1939, when it was founded by Hugo and Dorothy Magnuson, but the family-owned company came full circle early this year, when it opened its newest location, Hugo’s Pure Market, in downtown Grand Forks. The new store was even built on the exact spot that the Magnusons’ very first store, Pure Foods, was located.

Pure Market offers the latest grocery trends and technology, with an urban vibe. The store features a full deli, Hugo’s Kitchen, selling made-to-order lunches and family-style takeout meals, while specialized robots provide custom salads and frozen yogurt in a fun and unique way. The upstairs mezzanine, overlooking downtown, enables customers stay awhile and enjoy a meal, and the in-store 506 Pub serves drinks and appetizers. Both the Pub and the mezzanine have outdoor seating available. The store also includes a Hugo’s Wine and Spirits location.

In the area of store design, murals of historic local pictures line the walls, and aisles are named for nearby streets like Belmont Road, Chestnut Street, Demers Avenue and Kittson Avenue.

With Hugo’s Pure Market, the grocer demonstrates its enduring connection to the area. “Our long history, generous support of our communities, and wonderful and committed team members make Hugo’s one of the pillars that have built stellar communities to live, work and play in,” the retailer says, noting that some associates have been with it for more than 40 years. “Team members know they are appreciated, valued and vital to the success of the company.”

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Jimbo’s is a complete organic and natural food grocery store that places strong emphasis on local and 100% organic produce.

Jimbo’s

San Diego

Number of Stores: 4

Established in 1984, Jimbo’s is a complete organic and natural food grocery store that places strong emphasis on local and 100% organic produce. The retailer also features a full line of groceries, 100% organic bulk foods, wellness products, meats, an in-house deli, a scratch bakery and a 100% organic juice/smoothie bar, all offering products in alignment with 26 strict ingredient standards. Jimbo’s is committed to total transparency in sourcing and consistently supports local organic farms and businesses. 

This past year, the grocer began to highlight brands that it has identified as practicing one or more factors of Jimbo’s Pledge to S.O.I.L., which consists of four pillars: Security for our future (Thriving soil provides a safe and healthy environment for future generations); Organic is the foundation (Carbon sequestration + biodiversity on farms = thriving soil & nutritious food); Influencing positive change today (Educate customers on what they can do to support Mother Earth, people and ecosystems); and Life starts on the farm (Provide farm workers with fair wages, good working conditions, education, tools and resources). “As in the case of organics, it is going to take time, education, and a desire for stores like ours and customer support to move regenerative [agriculture] into the forefront,” the company notes as its motivation for launching the initiative.

The introduction of Jimbo’s Pledge to S.O.I.L. is in keeping with the boundary-pushing vision of founder Jim “Jimbo” Someck, an influential pioneer in the natural food industry, as well as a highly respected local figure for his community efforts.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Beyond its famous food offering, Kowalski’s expanded its gift product selection to include upscale women’s fashions, accessories, spa products, luxury home goods, color cosmetics, jewelry and more.

Kowalski’s Markets

Woodbury, Minn.

Number of Stores: 11

Already known and loved in the Twin Cities as a one-stop shop offering specialty and conventional products in an accessibly elegant environment, Kowalski’s Markets broke ground in a new way this past year by becoming the first independent grocer in the region to implement scan-and-go technology enabling shoppers to use an Android mobile phone or iPhone to scan product barcodes in aisles and then, with a single tap, complete purchases at a kiosk near the front of the store. The grocer also streamlined its online preorder and prepay programs for holiday meals and products, and increased product availability for curbside pickup and delivery, including same-day services, of items such as heat-and-eat, grab-and-go, family-style and hot meals; bakery; and produce.

Beyond its famous food offering, the grocer expanded its gift product selection to include upscale women’s fashions, accessories, spa products, luxury home goods, color cosmetics, jewelry and more.

Along with new in-store tech, enhanced e-commerce and the addition of products not commonly found in grocery stores, Kowalski’s devotes substantial resources to training stakeholders to organize, educate and set policy in accordance with democratic principles and standards. This proprietary program teaches associates that they have the capacity to know what’s good, and the responsibility to grow that knowledge and act accordingly to create sustainable solutions that serve the common good among diverse self-interests. Additionally, the company employs clients of Merrick, a nonprofit organization providing enrichment activities and employment support to disabled local adults; for its efforts in this area, Kowalski’s has been recognized by the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Martindale’s Natural Market is widely regarded as the country’s first health food store.

Martindale’s Natural Market

Springfield, Pa.

Number of Stores: 1

2020 marked the 151st birthday of Martindale’s Natural Market, which is widely regarded as the country’s first health food store. To mark the occasion, the company debuted “a bigger, better and newer store” promising an improved shopping experience.

Proud of being able to provide shoppers with hard-to-find items like pine-needle tea in “a judgment-free zone,” Martindale’s observes simply, “Open-minded innovation is part of our DNA.”

The store was founded by outdoorsman, author and entrepreneur Thomas Martindale and eventually taken over by his son, Thomas C., who spearheaded its transformation into a health food store and, ahead of his time, worked tirelessly to educate the public about the advantages of a plant-based diet. Today, the suburban Philadelphia business serves shoppers with a wide range of dietary needs, catering to those who follow Paleo, vegan and vegetarian regimens.

With all of these customers, the grocer strives to communicate on a meaningful level, noting, “Every day, new shoppers come to us with a thousand questions, and they’re eager to talk with a real human.”

Martindale’s follows a similar strategy in its sourcing techniques: “We forge personal relationships with farmers, producers and artisans,” the company says. “We handpick each item we carry and keep our prices fair. Our selection of raw milk and local eggs draws shoppers from the tri-state area, as do [our] seasonal heirloom fruits and vegetables. We prioritize ethical products such as Fair Trade coffee, biodynamic olive oil and humanely raised meat. We are special in a world of long-haul supermarket produce and processed food.”

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Nilssen’s Foods currently operates grocery stores in six communities across western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

Nilssen’s Foods

Baldwin, Wis.

Number of Stores: 6

Beginning as a neighborhood general store founded by Carl Nilssen back in 1903, and evolving into a grocery and hardware store to better serve the community, Nilssen’s Foods currently operates grocery stores in six communities across western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

The retailer carefully trains all employees to ensure every customer is treated with the utmost respect and kindness. By using a “people, product and profit” model, Nilssen’s is not only investing in employees, but also ensuring that all associates understand and implement the basic principles of quality, cleanliness, stock levels, signage, pricing and customer service. Every single customer who departs from one of the grocer’s stores receives an official and heartfelt “thank you,” creating a sense of personal connection.

This way of doing business is particularly appreciated by the communities in which the retailer has a presence, because its locations are in towns that have historically been underserved. In partnership with wholesale food distributor SpartanNash, Nilssen’s ensures that shoppers have access to well-stocked shelves featuring a vast selection, giving customers the opportunity to try the latest products. Additionally, shoppers were able to purchase staple foods and supplies even during the height of pandemic.

Alongside its core products and services, Nilssen’s provides such standout offerings as Nilssen’s Market Smokehouse Meats, made at the Clear Lake, Wis., location but available at each of its stores. The Nilssen family has received state recognition for its quality homemade sausages, processed meats and hams, with nearly 100 varieties of its “Blue Ribbon” meats and cheeses now sold to the public.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Zero-waste grocer Nude Foods Market aims to attract shoppers who want to shop according to their values without sacrificing convenience.

Nude Foods Market

Boulder, Colo.

Number of Stores: 1

Nude Foods Market is Boulder, Colo.’s first zero-waste grocery store. What exactly does that mean?

It means that the store has everything a traditional grocery store has — produce, prepared meals, snacks, bulk items, cleaning products, beauty products, and more — just without all of the plastic packaging. Instead, everything comes in reusable, returnable glass jars and is local, organic or rescued. The store also offers delivery by bike or electric vehicle.

Customers pay a small deposit per jar and then receive that deposit back, minus a small cleaning and sanitizing fee, to spend in the store when they return the jar. This promotes a circular economy in which the jars are reused thousands of times. 

Customer demand has led Nude Foods to offer a few items for customer refill, such as cleaning supplies and peanut butter, but the business expects that this pioneering retail concept will attract those customers who have previously shunned zero-waste refill stores because of a lack of time to refill or concerns about hygiene. Nude Foods is going after traditional grocery store shoppers who want to grab and go and not sacrifice convenience, yet still shop according to their values.

The grocer also champions technology in line with its vision. For instance, Nude Foods has deployed MishiPay’s mobile self-checkout solution as the primary payment method at its stores, instead of conventional registers. The environmentally friendly solution allows customers to shop and check out with their own cell phones, eliminating the need to wait in line to pay at a traditional checkout.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
Since the pandemic hit, each of Oliver's Markets associates has had to carry a heavier load.

Oliver’s Market

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Number of Stores: 4

To maintain its reputation for superior customer service, Oliver’s Market employs twice the labor force of national stores. “We pride ourselves on having employees throughout the store to assist customers, full staffing coverage in our delis and kitchens, and in solid support in our front end to keep checkstands moving,” Oliver’s explains.

Despite being more heavily staffed than other food retailers in its region, from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the grocer has faced labor shortages requiring each associate to carry a greater load. What’s more, finding and retaining workers remained a challenge into 2021, leaving Oliver’s unable to ease the burden placed on its loyal employee-owners.

At this juncture, Steve Maass, Oliver’s founder and president, decided to express his gratitude to employees for their commitment throughout this difficult time by awarding a surprise $2 million bonus in December that was strictly based on days worked since March 2020, not on pay grade. The bonuses were divided into four tiers, with the top tier at $3,000 and the bottom tier, for newer employees, at $100. Of 950 active employees, 560 received the top-tier bonus. Arriving by check, the bonus resulted in a happier holiday season for those who deserved it most.

In the card accompanying the bonus, Maass wrote: “I want to express my appreciation for all that you do to make Oliver’s what it is. Our success is entirely due to you, each and every one of you.” At Oliver’s, that’s not just hyperbole, but a simple statement of fact.

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2022 Outstanding Independents
To earn LBC certification for its stores, PCC met stringent requirements for the Materials, Place and Beauty Petals.

PCC Community Markets

Seattle

Number of Stores: 16 

Cooperative grocer PCC Community Markets has long been involved in environmental efforts in Washington state’s Puget Sound area, going so far as to “view all aspects of [its] business through a sustainable lens,” but it recently achieved new milestones in that area. While three of its stores, in Redmond, Edmonds and Burien, are LEED-certified, in 2020, its Ballard location became the first grocery store in the world to receive Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certification, the world’s most rigorous green building standard, from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). PCC’s West Seattle and Bellevue stores followed suit in 2021, and the grocer is actively working toward LBC Petal Certification for its new Downtown Seattle and relocated Kirkland locations.

To earn LBC certification for its stores, PCC met stringent requirements for the Materials, Place and Beauty Petals. Working with local artists to design meaningful artwork was an important part of meeting the Beauty Petal requirements. This has resulted in unique art installations at PCC’s Petal-Certified stores. In West Seattle, Celeste Cooning’s Cloud Wave installation was assembled from a reclaimed sailcloth to represent the essential life force of water. Shogo Ota’s Murmuration, in Bellevue, showcases a flock of birds that while small individually, become mightier when they fly together, taking the form of a Southern Resident Killer Whale. The Downtown Seattle store features carvings by Andrea M. Wilbur-Sligo, of the Squaxin Island Tribe, and the Kirkland location features Mary Iverson’s hand-glazed ceramic tiles representing “World Tablecloths.”

PCC is taking part in ILFI’s Volume Pilot Program, which boosts efficiency when certifying several projects at one time by evaluating store design and materials at a portfolio scale. 

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