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Foodies Losing Themselves and Loving It at Cincinnati’s Jungle Jim’s International Market

By Lucas Witman

For a newcomer walking into Jungle Jim’s International Market for the first time, one should be prepared for a truly extraordinary experience. To put it mildly—this is not your average grocery store.

Jungle Jim’s began over 35 years ago as a small, roadside produce stand. It was the vision of company founder “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio that propelled the business into the supermarket stratosphere. Bonaminio erected the company’s first permanent building in 1975 in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield, Ohio. Eventually the store’s focus expanded from just produce, adding dairy products and then a deli. In fact, Jungle Jim’s has never stopped expanding since its incipience, always growing in both size and product selection.

JungleJims1-RNIt is the sheer enormity of Jungle Jim’s, first and foremost, that makes this retailer truly unique. The store offers over 180,000 different products. Jungle Jim’s produce department alone is over an acre in size, and the company offers 1,500 different varieties of hot sauce and 12,000 distinct wine labels. The store features a giant outdoor pond, populated by life-sized replicas of jungle animals. Outside, there is a monorail, and inside, guests can shop from giant tanks full of live fish. In addition, the store is full of animatronic characters, positioned at every turn, including a giant, swinging can of Campbell’s Soup and a “Hound Dog Elvis Lion” in the candy section.

There are sections at Jungle Jim’s devoted to every genre of cuisine and every type of comestible. One will of course find the essential grocery store sections (albeit in super-sized versions) devoted to things like cheese, baked goods and frozen foods. However, this singular store also contains entire store departments devoted only to Asian, Middle Eastern and African cuisines, as well as dedicated sections for honey, olives, coffee and more. If there is a food product, no matter how obscure, you are almost certain to find it somewhere on the campus of Jungle Jim’s.

JungleJims3-RN“The saying, ‘Variety is the spice of life,’ rings very true in the Jungle,” said Jimmy Bonaminio, Director of Creative Services at Jungle Jim’s. “Every department is a world in and of itself. Each department shines because Jungle gives a lot of freedom to managers and they feel like it’s their own department. That is one of the things that make the shopping experience really unique. You never know what you’ll find.”

Taking advantage of the tremendous amount of space at the store, Jungle Jim’s frequently offers guests cooking demonstrations and product sampling events. On any given day, shoppers may have the opportunity to watch fresh mozzarella being stretched or salsa being assembled. The guests can then buy the finished product to take home and use in their own kitchens.

Jungle Jim’s also boasts its own cooking school. Interested participants can sign up online for classes on everything from wine and food pairings to gluten-free cookery to hands-on sushi preparation. For group events, the cooking school space can be rented for group culinary classes and activities.

Reflecting its founder’s commitment to entrepreneurialism, Jungle Jim’s makes an effort to keep its shelves stocked with unique local products, many of which shoppers are unlikely to find elsewhere. “[The store] offers countless numbers of mom and pop vendors the opportunity to present their ‘kitchen-to-shelf’ products to the store,” said Bonaminio. “Those one-of-a kind items compliment our outstanding selection. There are successful local businesses today who credit Jungle Jim’s for giving them the needed start.”

JungleJims2-RNWith such an extensive product selection, it can be a challenge to make sure each department is keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, but the staff at Jungle Jim’s is committed to doing just that. “With over 180,000 products in each store, demand can change from week to week,” said Bonaminio. “Because we are an independent, we have the flexibility to react to trends very quickly. We try to find a balance between filling customer requests and offering items they’d never thought of requesting.”

At its heart, Jungle Jim’s strives to set itself apart from all other grocery stores, by transforming a simple trip to the market into a family event, delighting every person who enters the store’s doors with something that appeals especially to them. “The goal of Jungle Jim’s is to make grocery shopping a fun experience. This includes providing some of the more unusual items that you wouldn’t normally find in your average grocery store,” said Bonaminio.

This strategy seems to have been a successful one for the company, as Jungle Jim’s has become a destination shopping experience, drawing curious foodies from all over the Midwest and beyond. According to Adams, some of the store’s visitors have actually arranged vacations around their trip to Jungle Jim’s. The store has drawn destination foodies from as far away as New York and Los Angeles and even Australia.

Today, Jungle Jim’s operates both the original 200,000-square-foot Fairfield store, as well as a new, even larger store, opened in 2012 in Cincinnati’s Eastgate neighborhood. For more information on Jungle Jim’s International Market, visit www.junglejims.com.