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Recognizing the need for good, quality foodservice items in the convenience store space, S. Abraham & Sons, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a distribution center there and one in Indianapolis, rolled out the Fruit Ridge Farms commissary program in January 2011 to all of the stores it services. The distributor began with sub sandwiches, salads and sandwich wedges, as well as deli salads including Italian pasta salad, potato salad and coleslaw. The company has since expanded the program to include the breakfast and dinner dayparts, and it has even more new items on deck for this year.
“It’s been a learn-as-you-go process,” George Bennett, vice president of sales, told Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner. “We rely on retailer feedback and customers who have been involved with the program since the first day.”
For instance, when retailers started asking for a veggie cup, the distributor introduced one with celery and carrots in late 2011. Similarly in 2012, S. Abraham & Sons responded to the request for a croissant sandwich option. The company has also adjusted products based on retailer feedback, including how to stack a sandwich.
“We’ve learned the best way is cheese against the bread vs. meat against the bread,” Bennett explained. “For salads, we learned the consumer wants salad in a clear package for both the top and the bottom, so they can see the bottom lettuce. Also, iceberg lettuce isn’t as good as green leafy lettuce, which is better for you and won’t wilt as fast.”
Orders for Fruit Ridge Farms products come in with existing orders, but must be placed two days in advance because the commissary makes each product by hand — “baking the bread and smoking the ham,” said Bennett. Each sandwich is hand-wrapped and never frozen. The Michigan-based commissary then delivers to the S. Abraham & Sons distribution center, where the items are merged with each retailer’s order for other items.
“We deliver five days a week, and there is no minimum. A retailer can order one sandwich or one salad if they want,” the VP of sales noted.
While the traditional sub sandwich is the most popular item, the club sandwiches with ham and cheese, or turkey and Swiss cheese are also doing well. Additionally, Bennett reported the salads are very popular with customers, especially the Chef Salad and Chicken Caesar Salad. All the salads come packaged with dressing and a fork.
A year ago, S. Abraham & Sons rolled out Fruit Ridge Farms breakfast sandwich options, including egg and cheese, and sausage, egg and cheese.
Most recently, in the fall, the dinner daypart was addressed with options that include meatloaf, spaghetti, and ham with macaroni and cheese. The distributor has already received great feedback about these new items from retailers.
The next move for S. Abraham & Sons is to expand the Fruit Ridge Farms breakfast daypart in the first quarter of this year with the development of a yogurt parfait.