During “Retailer Insights on Organics,” an OPN exclusive virtual event, Fresh Thyme Market’s VP of Produce and Floral Scott Schuette shared that his company’s mantra going into the new year is “we win 2021 with winning organic.”
Schuette said that Fresh Thyme, a Midwestern retailer with 70 locations in 10 states, has seen a number of organic items surge in popularity during the coronavirus crisis, and he expects this trend to continue into the new year.
Scott Schuette, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Fresh Thyme Market
“We found that everything from packaged herbs, packaged salads, the new pouch bag of organic apples, and some of the different packaged organic items really resonated well with this new [COVID-era] customer,” said Schuette. “The customer seemed to be a little bit more food safe and was definitely in a hurry, not taking a whole lot of time in their shopping experience like they had done in months past and in years past. They were more concerned about a quick grab-and-go option.”
OPN Co-founder and Executive Vice President Tonya Antle, who interviewed Schuette, said that she’s loved hearing how consumers are cooking more at home and asked the Fresh Thyme VP if he thought this would be an ongoing trend boosting retail sales.
“I’m definitely on the side of it’s going to be beneficial for the retailer to continue having shoppers in our store looking for those new unique items and also looking for some additional recipe ingredients that they might not have ever used before,” said Schuette. “And I think this trend is here for a while to stay, especially during the rebuilding process of the foodservice and the restaurant industry.”
Schuette noted that the fresh herb category, which is 100-percent organic at Fresh Thyme, has shown very strong sales growth over the last several months as consumers are cooking more at home. “It’s become actually a staple part of their diet,” he said. “It’s our biggest increased organic category right now.”
Heading into the holiday season, Schuette said he expects the coronavirus situation will positively impact Fresh Thyme’s overall sales as an increase in smaller-sized gatherings will lead to more transactions. And he predicts that this will have a particularly beneficial effect on the organic fresh herb category, which he referred to as “the hero of this Thanksgiving—and most likely Christmas.”
“The customer seemed to be a little bit more food safe and was definitely in a hurry, not taking a whole lot of time in their shopping experience like they had done in months past and in years past. They were more concerned about a quick grab-and-go option.” -Scott Schuette
“Right now, we’ve got plans of almost a 90-percent increase in the organic herb category for Thanksgiving, just because more individual families will be doing some cooking at home and still utilizing that same amount of cooking herbs—the poultry blend, the rosemary, the thyme, the sages of the world—to prepare that Thanksgiving turkey for this year,” he said. “So we’re excited about that opportunity.”
Fresh Thyme Market
When asked about his outlook for Q1, Schuette continued to express optimism and noted that it’s an important quarter for Fresh Thyme because it’s the time when New Year’s resolutions are implemented.
“Right now, we’ve got plans of almost a 90-percent increase in the organic herb category for Thanksgiving, just because more individual families will be doing some cooking at home and still utilizing that same amount of cooking herbs ... to prepare that Thanksgiving turkey for this year. So we’re excited about that opportunity.” -Scott Schuette
“For 2021, New Year’s resolutions will take on a whole different meaning,” said Schuette. “There will be quite a bit of folks that are hyper-focused on their health. And they’ve been focused on their health before, but I don’t believe that they’re going to be anywhere near the area of focus that they’ve had in the past. It’s going to be ramped up considerably.
"Look for the 9" signs at Fresh Thyme Market
“For us, [Q1 has] a traditional bump in sales that’s usually double digits for growth (year-over-year sales growth). It’s a time of year where those resolutions are put in place. And we’ll have a big opportunity to transition many conventional shoppers over to become diehard organic fans. … I see it as a huge opportunity to grow our organic part of the business farther than we ever have before.”
During the interview, Antle asked Schuette how the organic community could better support Fresh Thyme in its mission to provide natural and organic foods to Midwest consumers.
Schuette shared that proper identification of organic produce items at the register has been a significant area of focus for Fresh Thyme and requested help from suppliers in this endeavor. He said he’s looking for better twist ties, labels, packaging graphics, and anything else that would make organic identification easier for his front-end team.
Fresh Thyme Market
“There will be quite a bit of folks that are hyper-focused on their health. And they’ve been focused on their health before, but I don’t believe that they’re going to be anywhere near the area of focus that they’ve had in the past. It’s going to be ramped up considerably.” -Scott Schuette
In terms of the kinds of items he’s seeking for Fresh Thyme’s organic produce program, Schuette said he is most interested in those things that have proven to be popular over the last several months—“the packaged tote bag apples, the packaged salad programs, and some of these quick grab-and-go type of organic items. … Those type of items will probably not fade any time soon,” he said. “It’s going to be a big part of our business, so those are categories that we’re going to focus on moving forward.”
When asked how organic produce suppliers can get their produce into Fresh Thyme’s stores, Schuette said interested parties can use the vendor portal at the bottom of the company’s website. He also said that he loves personally interacting with suppliers and encouraged prospective vendors to reach out to him directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OPN’s virtual interview with Scott Schuette is available for viewing on YouTube (no registration necessary): Watch HERE
For further details on Fresh Thyme Market’s organic produce program, you can also check out OPN’s September Q&A with Scott Schuette here.