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BROOMALL, Pa. — In Pennsylvania, a state full of serious convenience foodservice competitors, it is easy to think that the market is dominated by large chains. But in Delaware County, small operator Swiss Farms has leveraged its strengths to cultivate an enthusiastic customer base for its drive-thru markets and maintain it for nearly five decades.
"We've been in business for almost 50 years, and there's something to be said about that," said Jaclyn Daley, director of marketing. "We have a really loyal following in this area."
Headquartered in Broomall, Pa., the 13-store operator made a name for itself by combining the added speed and convenience of a drive-thru with staples and other items typically found in a grocery store, plus freshly prepared food that is restaurant quality.
Swiss Farms isn't content to rely on its legacy, though. Particularly since new President and CEO Scott Simon came on board nearly a year ago, the chain has been exploring ways to improve itself and grow, while staying true to what its existing customer base appreciates.
A major part of the evolution is development of its fresh food program, which took root in 2009 when the retailer built a commissary in the back of its Milmont Park, Pa., store. Since then, the commissary and its test kitchen have allowed Swiss Farms to self-distribute, delivering fresh products to its stores six days a week.
"Whatever we make that day is going out that day or the next day," explained Justin Vignola, director of fresh food, who joined Swiss Farms last year. This self-reliance allows the company to make quick changes if it gets significant customer feedback, rather than having to go through a third party.
In recent months, Swiss Farms has significantly enhanced its foodservice offering by launching a line of fresh-made breakfast sandwiches; launching a premium coffee line; and adding signature meals to its Fresh Solutions line of freshly prepared meals.
Vignola, who has significant foodservice industry experience and has opened multiple restaurants, was brought on board to head up development of Fresh Solutions. Along with creating new and improved products, Vignola is developing seasonal menus.
The breakfast daypart is particularly important to Swiss Farms, as a large number of its customers pass through the drive-thru on their way to work in the morning. The breakfast sandwich line Vignola developed features house-made sausage, pork roll and more, and includes a lean option of egg white, spinach and cheese on a multigrain English muffin.
It is a conscious choice to give customers a healthier option in every category of food.
"We wanted to make a shift," Daley said. "Not to change up the whole store into better-for-you, but a good portion of it, to be able to offer that to our customers."
The company went even farther by hiring dietitian Audrey Hasse, whose nutrition philosophy is that "eating should be fun." Hasse’s job is to curate better-for-you food choices and develop recipes using ingredients available at Swiss Farms.
"The focus there is not only on the fresh food side, but also on our traditional packaged grocery items," Daley noted. "Our product mix has been the same for a long time, and people are more conscious today about what they're putting into their bodies."
Look in the May issue of Convenience Store News for more on Swiss Farms.