All the Right Ingredients

Danielle Boyd markets Fresh Thyme’s niche to promote the natural food producer’s growth in new regions

With more than twenty years of experience in natural foods, Danielle Boyd has seen plenty of changes as the industry evolves from fringe to mainstream. And now, as the vice president of human resources for Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Boyd is committed to assembling and training the best team possible on its farmers market concept while at the same time delivering its mission to a part of the United States that isn’t so accustomed to Fresh Thyme’s brand: the Midwest.

Americans are Eating Healthier

For years, reports have shown that the United States is consistently at the top of the charts when it comes to high obesity ratings. The tide may be turning though, according to a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture. It concludes that Americans are eating healthier, making better use of available nutrition information, and consuming fewer calories. A similar study shows Americans are consuming less cholesterol and eating more fiber, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

A reduced consumption of food away from home, such as food from restaurants and fast food, as well as Americans’ changing attitudes toward food and nutrition greatly contributed to the trend. Compared with 2007, the percentage of working-age adults who believed they have the ability to change their body weight increased three percentage points in 2010, according to the study.

Aimed at delivering the freshest and most natural products at affordable prices, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is making its mark on the region. While it is the figurative breadbasket of the United States, the Midwest is experiencing a strong demand for organic products, according to the US Department of Agriculture, which Fresh Thyme intends to accommodate.

The company’s strategy of offering something new has been a boon for business, but it has presented its set of challenges for Boyd in terms of staffing. “A lot of folks aren’t familiar with the concept itself, so we aren’t finding folks that have farmers market grocery or a true produce background,” Boyd says. “They don’t necessarily understand the volume or the tonnage that we work through at a particular location.”

With approximately fifty stores and roughly 3,500 employees with a goal of hiring 1,200 more by the end of last year, Boyd describes the trajectory as “quite a ride.” She has been more than integral to that expansion, seeing Fresh Thyme change in two years from a company of twenty employees to encompassing thousands.

In order to meet these staffing requirements quickly, Boyd says she looks for attitudes, “not necessarily aptitudes.” Since health food stores are a newer concept in the Midwest, Boyd says, she may not be able to find someone with the experience of selling products such as organic produce. But some skills, like understanding Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s thousands of products in the vitamin and body care section and how those supplements can lead to a healthier lifestyle, is integral for the role.

Above all, Boyd trains her team to hire people that are good at talking to others and can have fun on the job. “Did they smile? Did they look you in the eye? Were they comfortable interacting with the public? If they are not, then it probably won’t be the place for them regardless of their skill set,” she explains.

Part of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market’s rapid success is due to the company’s commitment to having a store with a smaller footprint that is dedicated to a center of the store featuring produce. Fruits and vegetables are displayed in the middle, with fresh meat, seafood, and poultry along the sides, as well as a full-service deli, a frozen section, bakery, dairy, vitamins and body care products, plus dry goods.

“You won’t walk down and find twelve different varieties of canned garbanzo beans, you may only find three,” she says. While there is still variety, it is not vast; something that makes for ease of shopping for customers. The store also prides itself on their body care section, which features hundreds of supplements, vitamins, herbs, several types of makeup, and what Boyd calls “true body care.”

Launching her human resources career with Wild Oats Market in 1998, Boyd has stuck to smaller natural food companies as she finds them positive places to grow and acquire new skills. “It felt very difficult to make a difference in an arena where you have 850 people in the same department,” she says about her time both at Wild Oats Market after it was acquired by Whole Foods, and Teavana after it was acquired by Starbucks. “I’ve never been siloed into one discipline. I am a true generalist of all things human resources. I am not just a benefits, compensation, training, or an employee relations person.”

However, she admits that working for smaller companies can present some challenges, but, given her nature, it’s ideal. “My fear is if I only had to do one thing, I know I would get bored,” she says. As an executive at a rapidly growing company, Boyd prides herself on her professionalism and communication skills. She honed these talents while starting her working career as the general manager of a restaurant and believes that those aptitudes have helped her excel as a woman in business.

Boyd also believes in having a positive team, and some supportive leaders have helped throughout her career path. Yet, when the environment hasn’t been as supportive, she adds, it typically would shake itself out because it wasn’t just specific to her.

After launching her career in Florida, Boyd moved to Colorado and then to Georgia for a subsequent opportunity. Now in Chicago, Boyd says having location flexibility has helped her land newer and more exciting roles. Since starting in the natural foods industry more than twenty years ago, Boyd has seen a dramatic shift in the United States, from an industry that could have been stereotypically described as “tree hugger” to what is now considered mainstream.

While in some ways this makes it harder for a market such as Fresh Thyme to stay competitive with larger, more corporate entities, Boyd is happy that the concept of natural and organic foods is becoming more widespread. “I think people understand natural and organic is better,” she says. “And even if they don’t, they want to feel that, if I am in a store like a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, it makes for healthier options.”