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MOM'S Knows Best: 30 Years and Counting

 

 

e really strive to ‘walk the walk’ at MOM’s,” Chris Miller, Regional Coordinator for Produce, Meat, Seafood, Cheese, and Bulk, tells me, as we speak about the company’s strategy to differentiate and bring more value to the consumer. “Our goal is to stay at the forefront of organic growth and continue to keep a high percentage of organic products, and variety, across the entire store. We have a very passionate customer base, and always look forward to expanding that group.”

And when he says a “high percentage,” Chris means it. To start, its produce department is 100 percent organic. 

“This was the vision of our Founder, Scott Nash, who saw organics as an area of growth, even in the early years,” Chris says, noting that this fairy tale of a start-up began as a mere dream of Scott’s, who laid his retail roots in his mom’s garage in 1987 when he was only 22, delivering organic products directly to his customers. Then known as Organic Food Express, the business finally found its brickand-mortar beginnings a few years later and entered the competitive retail landscape of the Mid-Atlantic, beginning with its first store in Rockville, Maryland. 

Chris Miller, Regional Coordinator for Produce, Meat, Seafood, Cheese, and Bulk.

Thirty years later, that “start-up” has transformed into a retail destination for the organic customer, spanning 17 stores with two more in the works. Currently in four states, as well as Washington DC, MOM’s employs more than 1,000 people who align with a central purpose: Protect and restore the environment.

“Scott started with a $100 investment from his mom, a Chevy Mailbu for middle-of-the night deliveries, and a plan to create more organic food access for consumers,” Chris says.

So, what sets this retailer apart within the retail geography of the U.S. East Coast? Let’s go back to MOM’s produce department which boasts 100 percent USDA Certified Organic fruits and vegetables from the welcoming entryway, wet racks, and attractive merchandising.

“We prioritize certified organic options to create a destination for consumers who are dedicated organic shoppers, while creating an inviting environment for newcomers as well,” Chris adds. “Our purpose is to protect and restore the environment, and that is the lens through which decisions are made at MOM’s. We are looking to impact agriculture in a positive way. That is why we sell only high-quality certified organic produce, prioritizing locally-and regionally-grown food when we can.”

In addition, the MOM’s meat department’s products are all raised without the use of antibiotics, with the majority of its fresh meat being sourced from regional growers that are either certified organic or pasture-raised.

Chris shares more on MOM’s initiatives across the store, “All of our seafood is rated as ‘Best Choice’ by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, or the Safina Center, and we have a long list of standards on ingredients allowed in our aisles. We prioritize stocking certified organic products whenever we can, as we do produce.”

In addition to the traditional departments, MOM’s has all-organic vegetarian eateries in several of its stores. 

In line with the company’s environmental concerns in respect to agriculture, MOM’s has also implemented a number of environmental initiatives over the years. Two examples of these efforts are that MOM’s removed all plastic bottled water from its shelves a few years back. More recently, the company went live with its very own solar farm that will generate enough power to cover 25 percent of its total energy use.

These programs, which are essential to MOM’s vision and philosophy, are also promoted with a flare of fun to draw consumers and support. Take the bottled water and plastic reduction initiative, humorously dubbed Plastic Surgery. Tongue-in-cheek? Yes. But, also effective. Within this program, MOM’s looks critically across the entire store to identify where the team can reduce plastic usage, or replace some plastic options with more sustainable packaging opportunities. From fully compostable Biobag produce bags, to more bulk options to reduce waste, MOM’s is taking the steps that will help the company further align with its business model of reducing its environmental impact.

Mom's maximizes locally grown produce offerings.

While completely un-produce related, I just have to throw another sustainability initiative in here. MOM’s has a program held annually called We Love Inflation. This initiative calls on MOM’s employees to go out and actually fill up the tires of its customers’ cars because a properly inflated tire can increase a car’s gas mileage and efficiency. Or, there is CARbon OFFset.

“We carbon offset our customers’ trips back and forth from the stores by collecting zip code data once a year, and we take the average distance traveled, and we put that back into a carbon offset program which creates sustainable energy,” Chris shares, as we discuss the fun and funky creativity that enlivens every aspect of MOM’s operations. 

100% of the produce at MOM's is Certified Organic.

Then there is Cotton’s Dirty Laundry (another play on words), which brings more sustainable, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton options to shoppers. I could go on and on, the company makes it easy. The authenticity of MOM’s lends itself even more so to the organic nature of both the store concepts and the team, which seeks to drive sustainability retail forward.

“We are always looking to really impact change and do things to spread that environmental message out into the communities where we live and work,” Chris says. “And consumers are drawn to that. They want to align their values with the stories of the food they buy, whether it is an organic eggplant or in-house roasted organic coffee. With our company growth in recent years, we are at the point where we can take our platform and enter the national retail dialogue on how sustainability initiatives can truly be implemented and brought into the fold.” 

 And what does Chris see in terms of sustaining an organic-focused retail chain? 

“Every time we look at consumer reports, whether it is the Organic Trade or other polling data, it is very clear that the easiest trend to identify is an upward one,” Chris says. “We take a lot of pride in our produce department with the goal of attracting that core customer looking for the whole organic experience. We put a lot of priority in staying fresh and exciting throughout the store. But the core, the anchor of our store, is always produce.”

Rockville, Maryland

In terms of MOM’s purchasing program and partnering with suppliers, Chris tells me that the company loves to find certified organic growers that align with the retailer’s values. If MOM’s can source regionally and/or locally, the team prioritizes those suppliers.

“We are proud to source certified organic produce nationally and internationally based on best quality and seasonality, and believe that any farmland that produces organic items has a positive impact on the environment, regardless of location,” Chris says. “We are always interested in suppliers that can bring new and interesting organic items to MOM’s. We have always been willing to take chances on new and developing trends and to also pioneer them.” MOM’s works with distributor partners as well, to import goods and food items that ensure that the company can offer consistent, high-quality items year-round.

“We put a priority on developing unique and dynamic partnerships with our suppliers and distributors,” Chris tells me. “By working through challenges and opportunities together, we strive to grow our business while empowering our strong partners to grow with us.”

For the past seven years, Chris has seen the company grow in leaps and bounds. Chris came to MOM’s after earning a degree in Environmental Science from Elon University. While considering careers in the environmental non-profit world, Chris applied for a job as a cashier at MOM’s. Through Chris’ love of agriculture and the environmental community, he found his way to produce. He started stocking fruits and veggies at MOM’s in 2010, and then made his way up to Assistant Produce Manager, Produce Manager, and finally to Regional Coordinator. In the last year, he has taken over a few other major categories including seafood, meat, cheese, and bulk.

“It has been a journey through the changing world of MOM’s. We were five stores when I started, and now we are going on 19. It has been a lot of fun growth and exciting times. I have built a great deal of lifelong relationships with suppliers and growers. This industry is truly unlike any other,” he smiles when I ask him how it feels to look back at a quick, but eventful, ride.

To think, this company started in a garage, with $100, and a Chevy Malibu as the “then” transportation mascot. It’s a story that speaks to the power of the dream, and how this industry takes root in the most unusual of places.

And thrives.