Grocery store shelf space can be tough to come by for local and regional food producers. Meijer’s latest Rivertown Market on Jefferson Avenue, just east of downtown Detroit near Lafeyette Park, has made the search for food entrepreneurs easier by dedicating shelf space for their local products.
As the market celebrated its opening last month, it brought a few Detroit food entrepreneurs like Nikki’s Ginger Tea, Planted Detroit and For Heaven’s Cake along for the ride. Having local food and produce available at these market-style grocery stores could be a new trend fueled by shoppers and stores alike, but the question remains: how can these local food producers scale up, build their brand, and deliver to more stores?
Bill Kubota checks in with these Detroit entrepreneurs and meets a few more.
Monique Sasser, Creator, Nikki’s Ginger Tea (on site): I had an easel that I was gonna kinda…
EVERY PRODUCT TELLS A STORY, DON’T IT?
HERE’S NIKKI’S GINGER TEA – IT KEEPS PUSHING ON – A DETROIT BRAND FOR TWO DECADES – NOW AT THE NEW MEIJER RIVERTOWN MARKET JUST EAST OF DOWNTOWN.
Customer: This is good…
NIKKI’S – FROM THE CITY’S EAST SIDE ISLANDVIEW NEIGHBORHOOD.
Monique Sasser: It’s really exciting to be right in the heart of our city doing this. It’s bringing quality to the community.
AN ENTREPRENEURIAL HANGOUT OF SORTS – THE MEGASTORE CHAIN TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT – A MUCH SMALLER FOOTPRINT – NO CLOTHES OR HOME FURNISHINGS SOLD HERE.
Elwin Greenwald, Elwin and Company: These small gourmet type Meijer, they do very, very well because it’s a perfect mix of grocery and local and fresh produce.
ELWIN GREENWALD’S GOT HIS RENOWNED ELWIN AND COMPANY SCONES.
Bill Kubota, One Detroit: How often you do this, come out and see the people like this?
Elwin Greenwald: At openings, I always do because it’s important for us to be here but I have a couple different people that do the demos for me but for an important opening like this we are of course happy to do it.
Marcus Reliford, Store Director, Meijer Riverfront Market: So when you think about our format we’re opening it up with 2-thousand vendors now, that easily could grow to 2500 or 3000 it’s really what the community wants.
Mayor Mike Duggan: You’ve got a winner.
Jacqueline Sanders: Thank you sir!
JAQUELINE SANDERS TOOK A BUYOUT FROM A.T.&T. – SHE’S FROM A FAMILY OF BAKERS.
Jacqueline Sanders, For Heaven’s Cake: I realized that I really had a love for it, I enjoyed doing it, and then people started calling me and asking me to do personal baking for them and so that’s how For Heaven’s Cake was birthed.
FOR HEAVEN’S CAKE MAKING ITS RETAIL DEBUT AT RIVERTOWN – THE KIND OF PRODUCT MEIJER’S BEEN LOOKING FOR.
Marcus Reliford: We want to see small businesses, local businesses, minority businesses we want to see them thrive so if that’s something we can do and aid in that process, you know the pandemic was very hard on a lot of people to keep their businesses open so to be able to have a different avenue for us to be able to do that means a lot to us and Meijer as a whole.
Tiffany Cartwright, G.L.A.M. Body Scrub: We call this caviar in a jar.
TIFFANY CARTWRIGHT TRIED TO HELP HER DAUGHTER’S SKIN CONDITION – CREATING A LINE OF BODY SCRUBS.
Tiffany Cartwright: There’s no actual chemicals or anything, it’s actually a coffee scrub.
Tiffany Cartwright: I was working as an administrative law judge and I was unfortunately I was laid off, I started mixing the products pitching them out, reaching out to different retailers in order to grow my business.
CARTWRIGHT’S DETROIT-MADE GLAM PRODUCTS: AVAILABLE NATIONALLY AT WALMART, STOP-AND-SHOP STORES ON THE EAST COAST AND NOW: HERE IN DETROIT.
Nikki’s Tea employee: Want to try a little ginger today?
CUSTOMERS SAMPLE AN UNSWEETENED BREW OVER AT THE NIKKI’S DISPLAY.
Andrena Sasser, Nikki’s Ginger Tea: We just launched our stevia line with stevia and monk fruit and that has really been doing exceptionally well. We’re launching some new flavors for the holidays of a blackberry and a cranberry flavor.
NIKKI’S HOME BASE HAD BEEN IN THE BASEMENT OF THE CHURCH OF THE MESSIAH IN ISLANDVIEW.
Andrena Sasser: Things were progressing pretty well and then the pandemic happened and brought everything to a halt.
NIKKI’S SHUT DOWN TOO – FOR A WHILE.
Andrena Sasser: Then we were really gaining some momentum and then the big flood happened.
Pastor Barry Randolph, Church of the Messiah (speaking on video): this is what it looks like, we’ve still got about 20 hours of rain coming…
Andrena Sasser: Down at the Church of the Messiah it was waist high, and we lost everything in that flood, had to start over from scratch.
Monique Sasser: I’m like wow, is this really happening because at the same time I had two floods at my house.
Andrena Sasser: When it was all said and done it was over 750,000 dollars done to the church basement and that is not going to be open or useable for another year or so.
THEIR TEA NOW FROM ANOTHER KITCHEN FURTHER UP GRATIOT. ALONG WITH MEIJER’S, THEY SELL AT WHOLE FOODS STORES IN MICHIGAN AND PARTS OF OHIO.
BACK IN ISLANDVIEW, PLANTED DETROIT’S MAKING READY-TO-EAT SALADS INDOORS – YEAR ‘ROUND – SOME DESTINED FOR RIVERTOWN MARKET.
Simon Yevzelman, Leader of Biosecurity, Planted Detroit: We’re right at the stage now where we’re really staffing up, looking for the right people with the right skills and mainly the desire to learn this kind of thing.
AROUND FORTY PEOPLE WORK HERE – STAFF NEARLY DOUBLED IN A YEAR AND MORE OF AN AUTOMATED OPERATION NOW.
Simon Yevzelman: Here we’ve got some red radish some purple radish some daikon radish, some broccoli, some kohlrabi.
Meg Burritt, Managing Partner, Planted Detroit: The growth of cannabis has brought down the cost of infrastructure that allows for us to grow indoors, namely the lights, so I think that’s going to see more players, more investors and eventually we’ll figure out a way to do this efficiently.
Simon Yevzelman: So this room is maintained in roughly at 70 degrees, about 55 percent humidity…
A SUPER-CLEAN OPERATION – MASKS, GLOVES, SUITS – PANDEMIC OR NO.
Simon Yevzelman: These racks actually slide so it allows us to save even more space and maximize our growing square footage.
Having something like this available all year means people have fresh delicious salads available from Michigan that didn’t have to come from Arizona or California and people essentially don’t have that excuse of ‘well, oh it’s winter I think I’ll just have a pizza tonight’ instead of salad.
BESIDES RIVERTOWN, PLANTED HAD ALREADY BEEN ON SHELVES AT SOME PLUM MARKETS IN THE SUBURBS.
Meg Burritt: It was a really big win for us to get placement in Plum Markets. They’re so well known for their fresh products and it’s nice to see someone who’s focused in local and not just in name only.
AT THE END OF THE FOOD CHAIN, IT’S A TEAM EFFORT TO REACH CUSTOMERS.
Phil Cassise, Vice President of Produce, Meat and Seafood, Plum Market: They don’t know about it but when they see the marketing that we’re doing in the stores and the promotions, the placement on the shelf they’re picking it up and they’re returning for it.
Meg Burritt: We anticipate finishing an expansion within the current farm and then we’ll be able to add more customers.
AFTER THAT? MAYBE ANOTHER INDOOR FARM SOMEWHERE ELSE IN DETROIT. NIKKI’S – POISED FOR GROWTH TOO.
Bill Kubota: What do you think will be different next year than this year?
Andrena Sasser: Next year we’ll hopefully be breaking ground on our facility and that is a two- to three-year timeline.
THE PLAN, A PLACE IN ISLANDVIEW ADDING AUTOMATION TO THE BOTTLING LINE WHILE PROVIDING SPACE FOR OTHER FOOD PRODUCERS.
Andrena Sasser: I think that there is two paths to this journey, I think the quicker path doesn’t necessarily leave room to be inclusive with other people and to leave room to build other businesses along with you.
Andrena Sasser: I feel like the slower path gives you an opportunity to bring other smaller businesses along on the journey with you and give them the tools and the benefit of your experience and I think that’s what we’re doing.
Andrena Sasser: It is going to be something unlike anything anybody’s ever seen.