Fresh Ideas and Fresh Fields – A Case of super marketing

Fresh Fields may be a supermarket, but what it’s super at selling is its image: Good for you foods.

A New Age grocery store Fresh Fields falls somewhere between a health food store and a traditional supermarket. It is not merely a health food store, because it carries a wider variety of foods including fresh pasta, baked goods, sea food and deli selections. What is absent from the shelves, rather than what is present, for Fresh Fields shoppers will not find foods containing lost of preservatives and artificial flavorings, such as Jell O and Oreos, that they can purchase at other supermarkets. What Fresh Fields offers is “organic and conventional produce, meats, seafood, dairy products, baked goods from an in-store bakery, deli items, gourmet and vegetarian prepared foods, a wide array of cheese, a full grocery department, an extensive selection of supplements skin enriching cosmetics and natural health care products and environmentally friendly household goods.

The arrival of Fresh Fields coincides with that of the New age, health conscious trend of the 1990s, and the company has not hesitated in taking advantage of consumers’ new shopping preferences resulting from the trend. According to a 1992 survey by Health Focus, a Pennsylvania based research firm, 90 percent of shoppers say that health has become a factor in determining the food they buy. This perhaps accounts for why many Americans are willing to pay up to 20 percent more for natural foods. Actually, the Fields premium tends to hover closer to 5 percent, and when in season, Fresh Field’s locally grown organic produce can ever cost less than produce sold at other supermarkets.

A team of entrepreneurs began Fresh Fields in 1991. The team included 33 year old Mark Ordan, former Goldman Sachs investment banker, as CEO and president; 75 year old Leo Kahn, founder of Staples the prosperous office-supply stores as chairman; and 44 year old Jack Murphy former manager of the Heartland supermarket chain in New England, as chief operating officer.

Within the first 19 months, five Fresh Fields locations opened in Maryland and Virginia. Expanding into and illinios by mid 1994 Fresh Fields had opened a total of 14 stores in the four states, with more in the planning stages.

Much of Fresh Fields’ success can be attributed to the fact that the company offers only the freshest produce, often from local growers. The company screens growers to find those who use natural methods of pest management and apply the least amount of agricultural chemicals. In addition, Fresh Fields seeks meat and poultry from farms, not factories to avoid the growth promoting drugs often used. Fresh Fields also makes an effort to get to know the people who catch the seafood and seeks out fish caught in deep, clean waters, not firm coastal waters threatened by pollution.

According to Kahn, though, the key to Fresh Fields’ success lies in pleasing the customer. Everybody says the same thing: please the customer but while everybody says it, not too many practice it. The customer is smarter than all of us. Here we are building an organization that zeroes in and keeps customer satisfaction in mind.

Instilled in Fresh Fields is a warm, friendly caring culture that begins with Kahn and travels through to all stakeholders: employees, suppliers, customers, community members. Whereas at other stores, such as Wal-Mart there is a single, symbolic greeter by the door, every employee at Fresh Fields is a sort of ”greeter,” and he or she looks up, smiles and says “help” to shoppers as they pass by. Within the company, there are no employees, there are only “associates,” many of whom Kahn knows by name.

Much of what Fresh Fields is about is relationship-building. The warm relationship between the company and associates lies at the heart. From there associates build relationships with suppliers to add the personal touch that is integral to the Fresh Fields quality image.

As shoppers walk through the stores, numerous samples are offered. Originally I bought organic produce and spent $25 to $30 every week or two, says Merri Mukai, a homemaker in Annandale, Virginia. Then I tried the baked goods and upped my spending by $60. Now I’m buying meats and eyeing the fish. They have definitely got me hooked.

Says Fresh Fields, ‘We guarantee your satisfaction unconditionally. You can consider our guarantee as an opportunity to be adventurous and to try new products, without risk. If for any reason you are less than completely satisfied with something you purchase at Fresh Fields, we cheerfully offer you a full refund’.

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