By Lucas Witman
Finding success as a specialty food retailer can be a difficult proposition even under the best of circumstances, but in a market as competitive as Bend, Oregon, it takes something truly exceptional to draw food shoppers into a retail space. The city of just over 76,000 residents contains at least 15 full-service grocery stores, as well as a bevy of specialty markets. With so many available shopping options for the local populace to turn to, it is clear that any store that has survived – and in fact thrived – for nearly 40 years, experiencing double digit sales growth for the past three years, is doing something right. Case-in-point: Bend’s Newport Avenue Market.
“For us, it’s all about the experience. Anybody can shop online. It really comes down to being a food hub for our neighborhood and going after [the shoppers], whether it’s the weekend visitors to Bend or the everyday European-style shoppers,” said Lauren Johnson, COO of Newport Avenue Market. (Her honorary title is “Leader of the Pack.”) “Being that food hub and creating a sense of excitement and a sense of fun is really what the experience is.”
For the team at Newport Avenue Market, it is the elevated experience of shopping at the store more than anything else that brings shoppers through its doors. The market not only offers an opportunity for hungry shoppers to pick up a few groceries, but it also serves as a meeting place where people in the community can come together to catch up on one another’s lives. And for visitors to Bend, the store serves as a regional showcase for Central Oregon’s farmers, specialty food craftspeople and artists.
Of course, Newport Avenue Market would not be as successful as it is if it did not offer an expansive selection of high-quality, in-demand food and beverage items. The aisles of mainstream groceries at the store as well as its gourmet offerings make this a place where one can go to do a big weekly grocery shop or simply stop in for a bottle of imported olive oil or a few farmstead cheeses. Newport Avenue Market offers meat, seafood, baked goods, deli, cheese,
produce, beer, wine, sushi, housewares and more.
In stocking the market’s shelves, the team at Newport Avenue Market focuses on highlighting the regional bounty that Central Oregon has to offer. From meat to seafood to cheese, every section at the store features an array of local and regional products. When the local Copper River King Salmon return to Oregon’s waters each spring, Newport Avenue Market is proud to be among the first retailers in the state to carry it. The market also sells local non-commodity beef from Country Natural Beef. The butter, milk and cultured dairy products from Eberhard’s Dairy are a Bend favorite. And area residents anxiously wait for local produce to come into season, heading to Newport Avenue Market to pick up everything from asparagus in spring to Opal apples in fall.
In addition, customers will also find products on the store’s shelves from a number of specialty food companies that are based in the region, including Willamette Valley Fruit Company, Red Plate Foods and O’Hana Salsa.
One of the real highlights at Newport Avenue Market is the store’s immense selection of wine and beer. The store offers over 500 distinct beers and over 3,000 wines. In a state that is equally well known as a producer of fine wine and craft beer, the market does not have to look far when sourcing products for these sections. “In Deschutes County, we have over 25 craft brewers and we’re also home to Deschutes Brewery, which is number six in the country. And we carry national brand beer as well. We continue to grow both in the craft beer and cider,” said Johnson. “With wine, we do a tremendous job as well. We have so many resources both regionally and internationally.”
Newport Avenue Market is always looking to expand its product offerings and searches far and wide to find the hottest new products to bring to Central Oregon. The store sends teams of buyers to upwards of a dozen different trade shows each year, scouting out goods for the store. However, it is ultimately the customers themselves that have the most influence over the store’s product selection. “We really take great pride in carrying what our customers want to buy as opposed to telling them what they should buy. If our customers request a product, we guide them to that,” said Johnson.
Newport Avenue Market’s devotion to Central Oregon spreads beyond simply featuring regionally produced products on its shelves. The market prides itself on being a valuable member of its community. As an employer, the store has become home to over 100 dedicated employees, ten of which have been with Newport Avenue Market for over 15 years. In addition, the store engages in a great deal of philanthropic activity within Central Oregon. This year, a charity golf tournament organized by Newport Avenue Market raised $50,000 for The Hunger Prevention Coalition. And Johnson expects a planned charity drive in December will raise another $50,000 for Bend food bank Family Kitchen. “I’m a fifth generation Oregonian,” said Johnson. “I live in this area as do my parents. With Oregon being one of the top hungriest states in the nation, this is something we can do to make a difference.”
For Johnson, Newport Avenue Market is not just a retailer. It is a friend to the community and to the region which it calls home. Johnson prides herself on being a good neighbor to those who she meets and does business with every day. “The relationship that we have with our customers is a friendship, and it’s absolutely experience-based. They come there to see their neighbors,” said Johnson. “It’s important for us to recognize that we are a food hub … We look forward to seeing our customers on a daily basis, and really getting to know their lives. [We love] seeing all of our neighbors – literally our neighbors (I live a few blocks away) – and catching up on their lives.”
This story was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.