Take high-quality ingredients, local products and years of tradition: add to cart.
For more than 80 years, Harmons grocery store has provided Utah consumers with a unique shopping experience: the competence of a big chain with the feel of a small-town grocery store. By adding features like in-store chefs, cooking classes, store tours and an aggressive sustainability program, Harmons not only stays on top of trends, but has become a trendsetter.
The company’s latest endeavor was creating its own private-label food products to offer healthy, fresh and organic options to its shoppers. Harmons spent several years developing the product line, vetting potential vendors and testing products for quality.
“Harmons is focused on quality,” says Gordon Welch, Harmons private label sales director. “With our private-label program, we wanted to do something different in the industry. Although they’d been discussing it for years, Harmons got serious about the private-label line two years ago. It was kind of funny that we were already headed down that road before it became the popular thing to do.”
Doing its Homework
Welch was brought on to do extensive research into the creation of the private-label foods. By attending national specialty and natural food shows, he focused his efforts on finding quality items that met Harmons’ standards of natural, organic, non-GMO and clean ingredients. It wasn’t just about providing health food, it was about providing products that didn’t have questionable ingredients.
One of the first items produced was a pasta product created by local pasta expert Debbie Chidester. It was a hit. Now the popular artisan crafted pasta products are a staple of the Harmons private label.
Then Welch moved on to finding canned tomatoes that were organic and non-GMO. The search for quality products and sources was intense, but with the grocery chain wanting its line to be unique and original, cutting corners was not an option. The Harmons organic canned tomatoes are processed the day of picking, steam peeled (instead of using chemicals) and put in BPA-free cans.
Now the store has more than 300 Harmons’ brand products, with more being developed all the time. While many private-label items from other chains are bargain priced, Harmons offers two tiers of products that cater to different shoppers. The premium line focuses on quality and is comparably priced with leading product brands, while the value tier offers consumers excellent food at a better value.
“Harmons is known for fresh foods and things they do from scratch like in the bakery, deli and meat departments,” Welch says. “The private-label program for Harmons is the way to bring the center store up to the level we’ve set on the perimeter of the store.”
In the past, a private-label product was considered “generic” or not the same quality as the name brands. With Harmons, Welch says the reverse is true. The private-label products are believed to be as high quality, if not higher, as the other brands carried by the store.
For example, the Harmons brand now includes cage-free eggs. In the fall, its Omega-3 brown eggs will also be cage free. By 2020, Harmons will offer only cage-free eggs in its stores.
The store is also a big proponent of providing sustainable seafood. Its canned albacore is certified as sustainable and its skipjack tuna product is in the process of being certified. Through a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Harmons provides shoppers with information on how to find the best seafood for their tables.
A labeling program, based on the Seafood Watch criteria, deems seafood as the best choice (green), a good alternative (yellow) or seafood to avoid (red). It’s the company’s goal to help customers find seafood that is farmed or caught in ways that are well-managed and cause little harm to the environment. In the future, Harmons has stated that all its seafood will be from sustainable sources.
Partnering with local farms and businesses is important to Harmons. Currently, the store gets water, honey, pasta, cheese, tortilla and eggs from Utah sources for its private-label brand. “Sometimes quality may take us to California or other states, but whenever we can partner with a local vendor, that’s an additional benefit,” he says. “As we’ve grown, we’ve gotten better at being involved with local brands.”
Marketing to Customers
After all the time finding, obtaining and creating the private-label products, the real test came when it was time to get the items into shoppers’ grocery carts.
To encourage customers to purchase Harmons brand products, the stores held tasting events, product launches and asked for detailed feedback from shoppers. The store’s food club program, Foodie Club, was also used as a way to get Harmons products into the hands of consumers. As shoppers earned points, they were rewarded with items from the private-label brand.
Welch, who started as a bagger at Harmons when he was 16, says the company is dedicated to its values of integrity, community, tradition and quality, and that shoppers should expect even more innovative products and services in the years to come.