After more than two decades at Portland, OR-based New Seasons Market, Jeff Fairchild has taken a new position at Organically Grown Company (OGC) as a buyer, where he will focus on purchasing organic produce for his previous employer.
“After 40-plus years in the industry and going through three years of COVID and all the inflationary pressure, it was harder to really have fun in the job,” said Fairchild of his former position as New Seasons’ produce director. “There were just so many things coming at me, and I had been working 60-plus hours a week for four decades, and I got to a point where I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to take the skill I had and find out what I would do with free time if I had it.”
Jeff Fairchild, Buyer, Organically Grown Company
Initially, Fairchild decided to retire—but that retirement was never formalized and only lasted about a week.
“I began to explore the possibility of continuing to do one of the parts of my job I absolutely loved, which was to continue to buy produce and support a company that I'm very committed to—New Seasons Market,” said Fairchild, who was one of the founders of the well-known Pacific Northwest natural foods retailer.
“I had been working 60-plus hours a week for four decades, and I got to a point where I just wanted to do something different.” - Jeff Fairchild
“And so through a process of asking all the stakeholders how they felt about that change, it really came to fruition that it was in self-interest of everybody for me to continue buying for New Seasons because I had the grower relationships, and I knew the products and quality standards that our customers at New Seasons had gotten used to. It really benefited everybody if I could take that part of my job and continue to do it for New Seasons but shift to working for Organically Grown (who I’ve worked alongside for nearly 40 years).”
While all aspects of his new OGC job have yet to be defined—and Fairchild has some freedom and flexibility to define it himself—the position will primarily focus on buying produce for New Seasons’ 19 stores and will include a more reasonable time commitment of 35 hours a week.
Organic Honeycrisp apples at New Seasons Market
“I've always had a deep affinity for OGC’s commitment to the Northwest and to their grower community and to the co-ops,” Fairchild said. “So I was honored to be able to take this new position. I've appreciated that it's given me a different pace to be able to open up to other projects, to be able to have the capacity to start saying, ‘What do I want to do?’ or ‘What different things can I do?’”
One of Fairchild’s primary goals for the new position is to continue to support smaller growers of organic specialty items.
“I've always had a deep affinity for OGC’s commitment to the Northwest and to their grower community and to the co-ops. So I was honored to be able to take this new position.” - Jeff Fairchild
“I have a real strong commitment to small family farms and small growers—and especially artisan growers,” he said. “As the organic produce industry continues to expand, a lot of people don't understand the importance of the eating experience that that group of farmers offers the marketplace. As one of the old guard people who knows the critical nature of that group, I’m committed to going out of my way to take the extra trouble to continue to find ways to support them.”
Currently, Fairchild sees price as the primary challenge of the organic industry—especially given the ongoing inflationary environment. While he said consumers were able to accept some price increases during COVID, they’ve now reached a point of resistance.
Organically Grown Company's organic purple sprouting broccoli
“Price is the thing that worries me most,” he said. “Growing organic food is a more costly process, and as a culture, Americans have never spent a lot of their income on food and don't have a lot of tolerance for that. I think the challenge moving forward is how do we continue to get customers to understand the importance of paying organic farms a premium.”
In response to consumers’ tightening budgets, Fairchild said he’s observed both retailers and growers reduce their SKU counts.
“A lot of the higher-end specialty products that the organic industry used to experiment with or have success with have fallen away,” he said. “There's been less of a tolerance for risk—there just isn't the money there for risk. The retailers are saying, ‘We don't want to pay more,’ and the farmers are saying, ‘We need more,’ and the customers are choosing to shop more at discount stores than they used to. So you're not seeing the explosion of different varieties hitting the market.”
“I have a real strong commitment to small family farms and small growers—and especially artisan growers. As the organic produce industry continues to expand, a lot of people don't understand the importance of the eating experience that that group of farmers offers the marketplace.” - Jeff Fairchild
Fairchild said he hopes the economy will turn around so that small organic farmers are able to thrive while innovating and growing unique varieties.
“I hope we don't get to the point where everything's about money, and we forget about what makes food special,” he said. “I still believe that the hardcore organic shopper is looking for more than clean food. They're looking for a story; they believe organic is different; they believe it tastes better. But we have to deliver on that to continue to have that hardcore shopper be part of our clientele.”
Organically Grown Company's organic blueberries
Fairchild said he’s looking forward to the opportunities his new position will give him to connect with more people in the organic industry, particularly independent retailers and smaller artisanal growers.
“I want to be able to be open to those opportunities where instead of spending my time just updating price lists, I'm spending my time helping people learn about the industry so that I can pass my knowledge on to other people,” he said. “I have experience with so many different parts of the industry—variety, merchandising, sales trends, growers, whatever. I've got a lot of knowledge, and I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to people and listening to people. So I just encourage people to reach out if they have questions.”