- Fresh Thyme Farmers Market reported 19.8% growth for 2018, driven by new store openings in Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Pennsylvania, according to a company press release. Last year's expansion brought its store count to 75, and Fresh Thyme has plans for four additional openings this year.
- The natural grocer also grew its private label selection last year, adding 455 items to bring its total to 1,850 private label products. In the press release, Fresh Thyme said it will expand its private label more this year to include sweet and savory items, protein-rich products and easy-to-prepare meals.
- Fresh Thyme has elevated its e-commerce offerings, launching a partnership with Instacart last year to offer customers a home delivery option and unveiling a new website in January featuring recipes and nutrition tips.
The natural grocery segment is fiercely competitive as other companies in the space, like Sprouts, report continued growth and give shoppers more options for fresh foods and products that offer transparency, low environmental impact and better-for-you ingredients.
Some of the Midwestern states where Fresh Thyme operates are particularly crowded, with other chains including The Fresh Market, Sprouts, Lucky’s Market and Earth Fare compete for customer dollars. All four chains include similar trappings in their branding, such as affordable products and a no-frills approach to product transparency. Whole Foods also has a strong presence in the region.
Like Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, these brands are also focused on store growth. Earth Fare recently announced an aggressive growth plan that would double its store count in the next five years, expanding its retail footprint outward from its North Carolina headquarters. Sprouts has plans to enter three new states this year, including Louisiana, New Jersey and Virginia.
While natural grocers expand, mainstream grocers are giving them a run for their money as they ramp up their organic and natural-food product offerings. Albertsons recently reported that natural and organic food sales have grown more than 10% each year for the last seven years, and Kroger reportedly carries 9,000 organic items.
The market may be growing ever more crowded, but Fresh Thyme's commitment to a customer-centric brand could also be a reason for its double-digit performance. In an age where cashierless checkout kiosks are spreading quickly and online shopping is taking over brick-and-mortar market share, some consumers are particularly hungry for human contact and classic customer service.
Despite its strong growth in 2018, Fresh Thyme has had some hurdles. The store initially scaled back its expansion last year, possibly in response to Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods. After launching 20 stores in nine Midwestern states in 2017, Fresh Thyme opened less than half that number of stores in 2018.