Independent Grocer Helps Local Businesses Sell Food
One way that Homeland, Oklahoma’s largest locally owned grocer, with 31 stores statewide, is helping out area food businesses struggling in the wake of having to close their dining rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic is by featuring meals and other ready-made products from nearby restaurants in its stores’ deli cases.
“We looked around at the restaurants near us, where we all like to eat, and thought, ‘What can we do to help our community?’” said Marc Jones, CEO and president of Oklahoma City-based Homeland, of the recently launched program. “We just felt like this was the right thing to do.”
Jones proceeded to make a few calls to get the ball rolling.
“We took a day to wrap our head around it, then made a big food order, called our marketing guy to get labels made, and within a day and a half, we had almost 200 packages in five Homeland locations,” noted Jamie Winteroth, who, with her husband, Jordan, operates the breakfast eatery Aurora in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District and Social Deck + Dining in the central part of the city.
Besides items from Aurora and Social, Homeland is carrying meals and other dishes from such local eateries as Ingrid’s Kitchen and Rococo Restaurant, the latter one of the city’s oldest seafood and fine-dining restaurants.
“As long as the restaurants want to do it, we’re happy to work with them,” said Jones.
Not only does the initiative keep restaurants’ kitchens operating, but there’s some revenue coming in as well: Homeland lets the businesses keep all of the money from the sales of their items.
The products are labeled with the restaurant’s brands, which was important to Jamie Winteroth.
“Mostly what we’re trying to do is make sure the restaurant doesn’t die in this process,” she explained. “So having Aurora’s name on the products with Social lets people know that we plan on coming back. Hopefully, when it’s time to reopen, it’s even easier.”
Additionally, the grocer has invited food truck operators, which have seen a decline in sales as well, into its parking lots.
Homeland already had some experience in working with outside meal producers through its relationship with Oklahoma City-based i2U Culinary Solutions, a chef-driven meal-prep company that works with hospitals to get diet-specific meals to patients when they transition back to their homes.
At Homeland, the pharmacies were working with i2U to help patients get healthier diet recommendations following a blood test. Homeland Deli and Bakery Director Chris Rogers let i2U start selling the meals in the stores in February. There are five regular dishes, one rotating option and snacks available in Homeland’s four stores in the Oklahoma City area. The meals are cooked at i2U’s headquarters and then delivered daily to the stores.
In the past few weeks, however, as grocery store shelves were cleared of bread, Rogers inquired about i2U’s capabilities, and the company stepped up: It now delivers 500 loaves, made by the company from the simplest ingredients, to Homeland stores across the metro area.
According to Jones, this partnership offers one example of why a local supply chain is important, as the retailer’s long-fostered local relationships have helped keep its shelves stocked. He’s been working with restaurant food distributors to get their products out as well.
“This experience has really brought out a lot of creativity,” observed Jones. “While we’d certainly trade it all for the world we had four weeks ago, the small silver lining has been seeing all these Oklahomans working together.”