Depending on where you live, you’ve either noticed a major shift in people’s eating habits, or you’re only starting to notice now, says Mark Doiron, chief merchant of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and a food industry veteran.
He jokes that food trends typically start on the West Coast, hop over to the East Coast, then “ten years later come to the Midwest.” Doiron doesn’t intend this to be negative, though. Instead, he speaks from experience, and how Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is changing that food trend for the Breadbasket states.
After spending the majority of his life in Maine, Doiron and his family relocated to Downers Grove, Illinois, where he says the timing was perfect to join Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. With more than five thousand employees across seventy-two locations, Fresh Thyme has grown rapidly in four years and is now uniquely positioned for that Midwest market. With a mission to offer natural and organic food at affordable prices, the brand is aimed to deliver a more customer-centric healthy grocers alternative to eleven states and growing.
“It’s only in the last five or so years that this has started to come to the forefront,” Doiron says.
Doiron’s experience in the food industry is vast. He began his career in food working on an apple orchard at the age of thirteen and worked at the local supermarket as a bagger during high school. Doiron climbed the ranks, and after college, he left an internship with a computer company after finding passion in the interactions between customers and the food industry.
Having enjoyed previous tenures with Delhaize America, Sure Winner Foods, and Schnuck Markets, a recruiter encouraged Doiron to look into Fresh Thyme Farmers Market as a destination. “Having worked in conventional supermarkets for so long, the whole concept of Fresh Thyme was really intriguing to me,” he recalls.
As Doiron explains, more people are putting a greater emphasis on their health and wellness, which has caused conventional supermarkets to struggle to keep up with the pace of consumer demands. That’s where Fresh Thyme is meeting the demand, both when it comes to choices offered as well as the facility itself. The design is aimed toward customers who are beginning their own journey of wellness, from the store layout to the products on the shelf.
“People are less interested in long shopping experiences,” Doiron says. “We keep everything in the center low profile. We pride ourselves on being the best at produce.” There’s even a Natural Living section, Doiron adds, which carries more than eight thousand items, including everything from vitamins and nutriceuticals to natural body care, protein powders, bone broth, and more.
After joining Fresh Thyme, Doiron was tasked with helping to strategize Fresh Thyme’s growth by developing clear processes and finding new efficiencies. As he explains, natural and organic foods are more expensive, so with produce, oftentimes the supply chain cost is more than the cost of the product. As a start-up, Fresh Thyme didn’t have the luxuries enjoyed by major brands, such as television campaigns or international enterprise systems. Despite that, and even with Fresh Thyme still growing, Doiron says it’s a focus on culture and developing real relationships with people that is making a difference and giving Fresh Thyme the advantage.
“When you do the right things with people—hire, train, develop, and encourage them—the rest falls into place. We are a people business that just happens to sell natural, organic food,” he says.
Contributing to those efforts is the Fresh Thyme team, who Doiron speaks highly of, as well as the organization’s customers and its business partners. He refers to Fresh Thyme’s employees as teammates, and he says the company invests a significant amount of energy into training and development, providing the team with an abundance of benefits and encouragement.
When it comes to developing partnerships, Doiron trains his team to be masters in the art of negotiation and value creation. “Your greatest leverage in any negotiation is if you have built a relationship and there’s trust,” he says.
Fresh Thyme saves costs by creating partnerships through grassroots initiatives: giving back to the community, buying from local breweries and farmers, helping raise money for their cause, and more. All of these initiatives align to ultimately create value for the customer. Doiron also emphasizes that it’s healthy food and healthy values that function as the key differentiator for the organization. “The average family can shop at Fresh Thyme because we really make a commitment to being priced competitively,” he says. “We’re a farmers market seven days of the week.”
Staying relevant in the food industry also requires constant analysis and movement. Fresh Thyme needs to continue its emphasis on staying on top of food trends. For instance, the benefits of cauliflower are becoming more well-known thanks to televised endorsements, which can go viral quickly. To help meet that demand of customers buying produce on their smartphones, Fresh Thyme recently added home delivery through mobile.
“If we stand still, we will not be a thriving business,” Doiron says. “It’s a recipe for going out of existence. The world is changing.”
And as the world changes, Fresh Thyme is keeping pace and growing at an exponential rate. While food trends tend to start on the East and West Coasts, it’s in the Midwest where Fresh Thyme is successfully taking on the responsibility to improve health and wellness. “People are gravitating towards local, fresh, organic, and natural foods,” Doiron says.