Posts Tagged ‘market’

Photo: Trader Joe’s.
Each of the grocery chain’s 500-plus locations “has custom-made signage, created by staff artists,” says the Post.

They don’t get paid much, but it’s unusual for artists to have a steady gig with benefits. According to Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post, a lot depends on which of the independent Trader’s Joe’s markets you’re working at.

“Growing up,” Ables reports, “Zoe Terrell dreamed of becoming an artist — she sketched scenes from her local farmers market and even won drawing competitions in her native South Korea. But she eventually learned what many creative people know too well. ‘My dad was like, “Well, drawing is not going to feed you,” ‘ Terrell says.

“So she studied education in college and, after moving to the United States in 2008, taught Korean — that is, until a curious job listing caught her eye.

“An ocean away, Terrell called her dad with surprising news: ‘Hey, guess what, Dad? Now, drawing is going to feed me,’ she recalls with a laugh.

“Terrell is one of hundreds of sign artists employed by grocery store Trader Joe’s. You probably know the idiosyncratic chain for its eccentric snacks and peppy cashiers, but that festive atmosphere extends to the stores’ interior design, too: Each of the 500-plus outposts has custom, handmade signage, all created by staff artists. Your grocery store is their art gallery.

“As what Trader Joe’s calls a ‘crew member with sign making talent’ (we’ll just call them sign artists), Terrell, 40, spends much of her workday at the Athens, Ga., store wielding a paint pen in a backroom studio. She makes signs to promote products with puns like ‘Hot Grill Summer‘ and creative drawings such as the Powerpuff Girls reimagined as vegetables. She paints murals that represent the local area, University of Georgia sports teams or the surrounding rural landscape. Occasionally, she gets to incorporate Korean lettering into her work, such as when the store got a shipment of scallion pancakes known as ‘pajeon.’ That was a highlight for Terrell — Korean students told her that seeing the Hangul writing made them feel a little more at home.

“Terrell says that in her early days in the United States, she sorely missed Korean grocery stores, where employees knew her family and each store had its own character.

“ ‘Especially when I moved to the U.S., everything seemed like it had been kind of standardized. You go to Walmart in New York or you go to Walmart out in the boonies in Georgia, and they look exactly the same,’ she says. ‘Trader Joe’s is just throwing a totally different curveball.’ …

“Trader Joe’s calls itself a ‘national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.’ And everything seems to have a human touch: from sweeping murals of local landmarks, which can stay on view for years, all the way down to individual price tags telling you that clementines are $5.99 and ‘great for the road!’ But for the artists, the work isn’t just about selling produce or marketing the latest peppermint-coated, jalapeno-infused, almond-butter-filled whatever. It’s a way to channel their artistic energy in a world that doesn’t make being creative easy. While job postings list pay for sign artists starting as low as $14 an hour, for many, it’s the stable art job they never thought they’d have.

‘I always tell everybody, it’s probably the best entry-level artist position that has a steady paycheck, good benefits and everything,’ says Dan Kaufeldt, a 35-year-old sign artist in Sacramento, who has been with the company for 16 years.

“Kaufeldt’s store decor combines comic book energy with meticulous detailing. For Thanksgiving, he painted a smooth-looking Turkey named DJ Gravy Grav who mixes ‘All about that Baste’ on a turntable, while spring break this year inspired an image of a cartoon lemon, strawberry and potato going on a road trip in a bouncing, orange RV.

“For many Trader Joe’s sign artists, going all out is part of the fun. At one of the Philadelphia stores, McKinna Salinas, 25, is working on transforming the bathroom into a parody of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inspired by works from the museum collection such as Severin Roesen’s ‘Flower Still Life With Bird’s Nest.’ In her version of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Life Line,’ a man is seen dangling above stormy seas — but instead of saving a woman, he’s saving a carrot. …

“Trader Joe’s rarely advertises. It doesn’t have coupons. It avoids the words ‘sale’ or ‘cheap.’ The atmosphere is deliberately friendly. …

“As for the signs, ‘the handcrafted quality emphasizes the personal relationship,’ says Mark Gardiner, a former marketing executive who worked at Trader Joe’s while researching his book Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s, which unpacks how the chain attracted a cultlike following. ‘It’s the graphic equivalent of that cheerful conversation that you’ll have with a total stranger that’s working there, who sees you buying dog food and asks you what kind of dog you have.’

“While working at the downtown Minneapolis Trader Joe’s, Georgia Gump took that idea to its extreme: The 25-year-old artist made a window mural featuring the neighborhood’s dogs. It was a big hit.

“But for Gump, who left the store in May, the early excitement of working at Trader Joe’s faded fast. That particular Minneapolis store is now trying to unionize for better wages and benefits (a store in Hadley, Mass., became the first Trader Joe’s to unionize last month), and Gump says it has been plagued by bad management. Gump hit a breaking point after breezing through the installation of an elaborate, handcrafted Christmas village.

“ ‘At first I was really excited that I did it in less than two hours,’ Gump says. ‘Then, it hit me that installing this piece of art cost the company less than $30.’ …

“Some artists have used the job as a jumping-off point. Gump now does sign commissions and pet portraiture around town. Salinas recently made a piece for NASA that will be featured on a satellite. Terrell says, ‘Trader Joe’s became my self advertisement.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Reminder Publishing.
Jared and Sam Newell are the current owners of Fruit Fair in Chicopee, Mass.

Too many low-income communities lack a decent supermarket or any access to the fresh fruits and vegetables so necessary for healthful living. I do occasionally see reports on food-desert pioneers trying to remedy that, but they seldom succeed without a little help from funders.

Karen Brown wrote at New England Public Media about a pioneering market in Chicopee, Massachusetts, that everyone wants to see successful.

“Western Massachusetts is home to acres of farmland and vegetable stands, as well as many neighborhoods considered ‘food deserts.’ As food prices go up, government programs are supporting efforts to offer more affordable, healthy food.

“The new owners of one longtime grocery store in Chicopee have made it their mission to become a fresh-food resource, but against considerable odds.

“One recent afternoon, Samaita Newell, co-owner of Fruit Fair, was slicing cheese at the deli counter, giving one of her staff a few minutes off and exchanging pleasantries with the regular customers. …

“In 2019, Newell and her husband Jared bought the 6,000 square-foot store (plus an extra 5,000 square feet of storage). At the time, most of the produce inventory was packaged or frozen. They added more long shelves of fruits and vegetables, including from local farms.

“ ‘We even have things like fiddleheads,’ Newell said, pointing at a long shelf of fresh produce. ‘We get radishes, we get scallions, we get green leaf, red leaf, asparagus, native corn.’

“This area of Chicopee has long been classified by the US government as a low-income, low-access food area, also known as a food desert, where it’s hard to find affordable, fresh food.

“The Newells say their goal was to fill that void, while making a living, but they are learning how low the profit margin is. ‘We actually have yet to cash in any of our paychecks,’ Samaita Newell said. ‘And we have been working here almost three years.’

“Newell didn’t start her career in the grocery business. She emigrated as a college student from India, studying physics and astronomy, which is what her family and culture expected from her. But when she started dating Jared, she said, her family stopped supporting her.

“ ‘Being an immigrant and studying physics, I didn’t really have like a lot of connections,’ she said. ‘So I had to start somewhere and I started in retail.’ …

“Feeling stymied as a person of color, she decided it was time to own her own business. Jared had been working for a forestry company. The couple had already bought a few rental properties for income. But they wanted a store.

They bought Fruit Fair for $1.4 million and quickly discovered it would need a lot of investment.

“ ‘All of the equipment was falling apart,’ Jared Newell said. ‘More than a quarter of everything was already dated. We had to throw it all out just so that we could have fresh product coming in.’ …

“ ‘[There are] a lot of convenience stores, but it’s all chips and soda,’ said John Waite, who administers a state-funded program called the Massachusetts Food Trust. Waite’s organization, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, is in charge of giving out loans and grants to food retailers in western and central Massachusetts. The program came out of a 2012 report on the need for more equitable access to healthy food.

“Waite said one strategy is to recruit large supermarkets like Big Y and Stop & Shop into underserved areas, but those efforts can take years of advocacy. ‘So trying to get a smaller store to increase their offering is the other way to go,’ he said. ‘We also think this is a good economic development tool.’ …

“The Newells say a loan and grant from the Massachusetts Food Trust has helped keep them afloat. But it still hasn’t been easy. … Sales are up by 20%, but some costs have tripled. Every week they have to relabel 200 grocery items to keep up with rising prices.

“ ‘The same customers are coming in,’ Samaita Newell said, ‘but instead of getting like 20 things, they’re probably getting like 15 or 16 and thinking like, “Okay, this is a huge price difference. This I will get elsewhere.” ‘

“That means stiff competition from large chains such as Walmart, which can sell groceries at a discount. …

“Samaita and Jared Newell say they’re in it for the long haul — but it is a long haul. Both in their 30s, they have decided to put off having children while they get the store going. This year they hope to finally pay themselves a salary.”

More here. No firewall.

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Here’s an upbeat story about the contributions of immigrants.  It relates to an area of Erie, Pennsylvania, that got a shot of adrenaline when entrepreneurial refugees began opening markets to serve various ethnicities.

Erika Beras reported at PRI radio’s The World, “Much of Erie, Pennsylvania is a food desert — people don’t have easy access to fresh or nutritious food. But [stores] run by refugees are popping up and making a big difference.

“At UK Supermarket, Samantha Dhungel pulls bags of vegetables out of the freezer. In her cart are onions and eggplant, but she pulls out a vegetable she only knows by its Nepali name. It’s a leafy green that her Nepalese husband uses in his cooking. …

“Before this store opened two years ago, there were a couple convenience stores and a few fast food spots around. All of them sold food that wasn’t nutritious, says Alex Iorio. She’s the public health educator for the Erie Department of Health. She says this place is different. …

“Most of the stores carry fresh foods and whole-grain items. Before, if people in the neighborhood wanted fresh vegetables, cornmeal or nuts, they’d have to drive across town or to the suburbs.

“Then two years ago, Pradip Upreti, a Nepalese refugee, opened UK Supermarket. … He wasn’t trying to solve the food desert problem — none of the store owners were. They just wanted refugees in Erie, who make up 10 percent of the city, to have access to specific foods.

“People would drive distances and buy up items like jackfruit and halal pizza. Then they’d resell those items to people in their community. Upreti saw a business opening there. …

“Upreti’s store carries mostly South Asian foods. Across the street is an Iraqi owned store that carries lots of spices. Around the corner, another Iraqi store specializes in fish and meats like lamb and goat. And there are well over a dozen more stores like them.” More here.

Many immigrants become small business owners. Happily for their neighbors and other people who enjoy foods from around the world, some of them open grocery stores.

Photo: Erika Beras
Pradip Upreti, center, stocks shelves in his Erie, Pennsylvania store, UK Supermarket.


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Like most Americans, I don’t know much about the multibillion-dollar Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this year. NYU professor Marion Nestle talks about its enormous complexity in the Boston Globe.

“I’d like to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy. Health policy tells us that we ought to be making fruits and vegetables inexpensive.” Her biggest concern is that those who produce and sell processed foods benefit most from current policy, which has had the effect of lowering prices for processed food and increasing the prices for the fresh fruits and vegetables people really need.

I have blogged before about the related problem of “food deserts,” localities where there is no reasonably priced market and people end up eating too much junk food. (Check out this post and this one.)

Today I would also like to point you to a National Public Radio story by Nancy Shute.

“Increasingly, metropolitan areas are creating or bolstering their food policies, recognizing the need to ensure that healthful and affordable foodstuffs are available for residents. Baltimore fashioned a food policy initiative in 2009 which involves multiple city departments and an advisory group of over 30 organizations. Priorities included the reduction of ‘food deserts’ and the support of projects that allow low-income residents to order groceries online and pick them up at the local library. New York and San Francisco have also created their own food policy initiatives, and mayors across the U.S. have met to launch a food policy task force.”

“In the summer, Shirley and Ewald August grow blueberries at their Windsor Mill, Md., farm and sell at Baltimore farmers markets.” Photograph: Amy Davis/MCT/Landov

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