retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Eater reports that Row 7, which was founded two years ago to disrupt the existing seed monopolies "and breed delicious, healthy plants that more people want to eat," has struck a deal with Wegmans to "sell the company's orange badger flame beets - and Row 7’s story - at all of its 101 stores."

It is seen as the first step in having a broader presence in the nation's grocery stores, a strategy hatched by famed chef Dan Barber.

According to the story, "Slinging produce at supermarkets may be an unexpected strategy from a Michelin-starred, farm-to-table chef who has long voiced opposition to the corporatization of the food system. But Barber said he sees the partnership - and an overall push into grocery stores - as the best way to get the food and its message to the masses."

Eater quotes Barber as saying that "the jump from market darling to supermarket sensation was harder than it looked, because of the plug-and-play nature of the wholesale produce market."  Most stores simply were not built to accept and market Row 7 products.  But "Wegmans already had infrastructure in place that would allow the company to test how well the vegetables would grow and sell, and to educate consumers on the new varieties.

"At its own organic farm and orchard in upstate New York, Wegmans’ farmers tested seven acres of badger flame beets to gauge how the beets would perform if they decided to ask growers in their network of 34 organic farms to plant them. Then they rolled the beets out in select stores to gauge how customers responded to them."

KC's View:

One of the things that separates both Wegmans and Row 7 is that they recognized it was not enough to simply have something new - they needed to actually sell it, and Eater says that "Wegmans created signage and in-store displays, and Barber spoke personally to 70 'produce ambassadors' who educate customers in the stores."

That's huge, but it is a commitment that not enough companies make.  But it seems to me that in order to differentiate a store from its competition, whether physical or online, that is exactly the kind of commitment required.  It takes people, it takes money, it takes energy.  Take it or leave it.

I'm interested to see how Barber adapts to a less rarefied atmosphere than he is used to;  I've eaten exactly once at his Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant, and it was one of the most memorable and expensive meals I've ever had.  I certainly never thought that he'd find his way into supermarkets, even Wegmans (which, as it happens, will be opening a store in Harrison, New York, in just a few months - less than 20 miles from the restaurant).

He's already reportedly working with the likes of Fresh Direct, Sweetgreen, and the Bon Appétit Management Company, which will put Row 7 products into places like Oberlin College and San Francisco’s Oracle Park.

Seeds have been planted.  It will be interesting to see what grows.