By Frank Beard
For many convenience retailers, sales of healthful products increased throughout 2017. And it’s no secret that the industry as a whole has increased its availability of fruit, vegetables and other better-for-you options.
But can “healthy” define an entire brand?
That’s the idea behind Farm 2 Counter—the creation of Paul Allen, a former private yacht chef. When I read about the store in an online article from a local newspaper, I knew I had to see it for myself.
Located in Springfield, Missouri, the store provides a selection of fresh produce, healthful snacks, antibiotic-free meat and sandwiches with more culinary flare than is typically associated with convenience retailing. Do you need to stock up on fennel, radishes, carrots or beets? They have those fresh veggies and more.
In fact, not one product contains high fructose corn syrup. While chips and soda are available, the soda is organic and meticulously adjusted for the right amount of sweetener and carbonation, and the chips are locally-produced. In fact, nearly every product from wagyu beef to frozen pizzas originates in Missouri.
Farm 2 Counter is housed in a small building that has undergone extensive renovations. Stained concrete floors, LED lighting, industrial metal accents and a variety of artwork provide an unique ambiance. The original shelves have even been sanded down to bare metal and accented with locally-sourced wood. A miniature chandelier hangs from the ceiling of a single restroom that I suspect is nicer than what most people have at home, and customers wash their hands in a glass bowl sink.
Allen also understands the importance of online reputation. A few feet away from the samples is a sign that offers $1 off customers’ purchases for leaving an online review.
Will this concept succeed? Business has been steady, and the feedback from the local community has been positive. That’s because the defining quality of the store is exactly that—quality. Every product is carefully considered. The small format is surely attractive to millennials—now the largest U.S. generation—who comparatively devote the least amount of time to eating, drinking and food preparation. It’s also a convenient option for anyone who doesn’t want to visit a warehouse-sized grocer just to get a few items.
As I’ve written before, differentiation is vital for convenience retailers in 2018 and beyond. From potentially disruptive services and technologies to increased competition with QSRs, grocers and dollar stores, it’s important to stand out. Farm 2 Counter does exactly that.
But it’s also a bold move. Some retailers are hesitant to jump into “healthy” and “fresh” with both feet, and Paul has received concern from well-meaning friends who didn’t believe that he could succeed without some of the typical convenience store staples.
However, I wonder if the demand for this level of quality is stronger than we realize. I sometimes hear about the limitations of “healthy and fresh” in certain formats and communities—such as food deserts—but perhaps it just takes a little more effort. I’m reminded of a presentation from Karen Shore, director of the Food Trust, during a meeting of the United Fresh Task Force at the 2016 NACS Show. As she explained, many urban corner stores have had success with fresh produce after receiving adequate training and resources.
Farm 2 Counter seems to be onto something. It may not work everywhere, but it may work in a lot of places. Even in Springfield, Missouri.
To learn more about Farm 2 Counter, read Al Hebert’s upcoming Gas Station Gourmet feature in the March 2018 issue of NACS Magazine.
Frank Beard is a regular NACS Daily contributor who has traveled to more than 1,000 convenience stores in 24 states. He raised awareness of the industry's healthful food options with his “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment, and he's an analyst/evangelist for convenience store and retail trends at GasBuddy. Follow Frank on Twitter here.