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Fresh Thyme Farmers Market: Healthy foods for the masses


Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, a specialty grocer focusing on fresh, natural and organic foods at accessible prices, is on a roll.

Barely two years out of the gate (the first store opened in April 2014, in Illinois), the Chicago-based company now counts 32 locations throughout the Midwest.

Its aggressive growth strategy calls for 60 stores by 2019. Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio are among the states targeted for growth.

The idea for Fresh Thyme originated with Chris Sherrell, who serves as its CEO. The executive is no stranger to the natural and specialty foods industry.

From 2003 to 2012, Sherrell was with Sunflower Farmers Market, first as COO and then as president and CEO, during which time it grew to 44 locations in the Southwest (the company merged with Sprouts Farmers Market in 2012).

Prior to Sunflower, he was in operations at Wild Oats Market.

Fresh Thyme combines the spirit of a weekend farmers market and the convenience of a neighborhood grocery store with the nutritious offerings of a natural food marketplace. Value prices, at least compared with some others in the category, distinguished the concept from the start.

“We like to think we have mass appeal,” said Sherrell. “The concept behind Fresh Thyme is bringing the natural organic lifestyle to the masses by offering attainable prices.”

LAYOUT: With an average footprint of 30,000 sq. ft., Fresh Thyme stores have an inviting, farmers market feel. In a twist on the traditional supermarket model, the center of the store is devoted to produce.

“Our stores don’t follow traditional grocery store design, nor do they have tall aisles or glitzy fixtures,” said Sherrell. “In fact, our stores are so simple and easy to navigate that we don’t number our aisles or hand out store maps. We believe shopping for fresh and healthy food should be easy and enjoyable.”

Fresh produce, including organic and locally grown items, weighs heavily in the mix, along with other perishables. Indeed, more than half of the store’s real estate is used to display produce, meats (hormone-free) and seafood.

The mix also includes fresh-baked goods, to-go meals, specialty foods, locally roasted organic coffee beans, and barrels full of natural and organic bulk foods, along with conventional grocery items.

In additon, there are plenty of gluten-free and dairy-free options, and one department is dedicated to vitamins, supplements and natural body care products.

As to the target demographic, Fresh Thyme caters to individuals with a progressive lifestyle, according to Sherrell.

“With our heavy emphasis on fresh produce and locally sourced options, we target people who are active, healthy, looking to change their lifestyle from eating processed foods and fat, while still remaining cost-conscious,” he explained.

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