Niemann Foods CEO Rich Niemann repeated three words when describing its Harvest Market store in Champaign, Illinois to Grocery Dive: entertaining, informative and local.
The three words point to major trends customers are looking for from a grocer these days, but that many struggle to achieve. But Niemann Foods has hit the mark right from its launch and the momentum is picking up with its new stores.
Customers frequently go to Niemann Foods' Harvest Market for the entertainment and local selection, including a butter churning station, games, new featured products, local beer and wine selection at its bar lounge and a grilled cheese competition at its Farmhouse restaurant.
The retailer uses Kilgus' sweet cream, from a local family farm not too far from Champaign, to create its in-house butter. It then uses the byproduct to make buttermilk and uses the same buttermilk to craft buttermilk biscuits in the in-store bakery. The bakery then delivers some of the biscuits to its Farmhouse restaurant.
The full-service restaurant's seven chefs use produce directly from the store and butter that is churned in-house. The recipes call for other local products, including Little Farm on the Prairie eggs, Shullsburg cheese, in-house roasted deli meats and beef straight from Rich Niemann's ranch.
Shoppers can attend an interactive class with an in-store dietitian to learn more about healthy food choices. They can ask an associate to explain the background of any product that comes from Harvest Market's partners and producers, or stop by the grocer's recipe maker, whose sole job is to create new recipes using products in the store.
In addition to its extensive local selection, Harvest Market offers a specially curated product list that features both artisan and mainstream supermarket items.
"We don't even call it a supermarket," said Niemann. "We're not food snobs. We're not going to tell you what to eat. You can buy national brand products. You can buy a Diet Coke. But you can also buy things that are healthier like kombucha. We let all foods sit here, but tell the story and let customers do a deeper dive into what the products are about."
Niemann credits the stores' product selection to his experience as a cattle raiser. He said he used his connections and understanding of the agriculture industry to develop relationships with its producers and makers.
To qualify as "local" at Harvest Market, a product generally has to be produced less than a few hundred miles away.
According to Niemann, the mayor of Champaign said the store had become "the living room of the community" because people go there to shop, learn, be entertained and experience something new.
The store, which opened its doors in Champaign, Illinois just over three years ago, was conceptualized by Niemann in 2011.
The retailer disclosed that its second location in Springfield, Illinois is undergoing construction and is set to open in about a year. It will be very similar to its current store, but due to constant transformations in the industry, it will be the next generation of its Harvest Market concept. And the expansion won't stop there. Niemann Foods is currently looking for sites to open its third and fourth stores.