Q&A: Kim Hookway on Buckeye Fresh’s Giant Eagle deal

Departments - Consumer Corner

Buckeye Fresh’s co-founder and president explains why the deal makes sense for the business, if it has met her expectations and why it’s important to market locally.

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March 25, 2019

Photo: Allison Krieg

In late 2018, Buckeye Fresh — a Medina, Ohio, vertical farm — expanded its relationship with a one-year deal with Midwest grocery chain Giant Eagle. As part of the agreement, some of Buckeye Fresh’s lettuce blends will be sold in clamshells designed with Giant Eagle’s Market District branding, marked as “grown locally” and placed in endcaps reserved for locally grown products at different stores.

“It’s been great,” says Buckeye Fresh co-founder and president Kim Hookway. “I think it was better received than they anticipated.”

Produce Grower: Why do you think the program has gone better than expected?

Kim Hookway: So going into a new product launch, and not having any data points whatsoever, they gave us a certain projected number [that we’ve beat]. Promoting it through ads I think is helping. You have those shoppers that shop those flyers weekly and when you see a good deal on a great product, if you’re like most consumers you’re going to jump on that. A lot of them have been, which has been great. Their goal this year is to promote this Market District brand and see how far they can take it. And so we have ads planned every month. It’s been good.

PG: Has this deal lived up to your expectations?

KH: It’s definitely exceeded ours. Although I will tell you, going in the beginning, they gave us their numbers, which I thought were very conservative. But I guess from the initial launch I thought their numbers were light. So I guess the numbers to me, not that I knew what the numbers would be exactly, but I knew they were a little conservative only because we had Buckeye Blend [Buckeye Fresh’s main lettuce mix] out there under our brand, so it was already a product that I kind of had history on myself of what Giant Eagle and other stores were taking. We do have another product for them that was introduced [Summer Crisp, a crunchier lettuce] — I didn’t have a good feel on that one. But I did anticipate Buckeye Blend would be a winner.

PG: When you’re working with a brand, how important do you think it is that they know that you’re a local business and market that to the end consumer?

KH: I think it does matter, and I think the goal is, on their marketing side, to have more about the farmers and the growers — a little side note. Whether it’s a display in the store of how things are done and where things are located, I think there is more of an education focus that will be placed on this whole local branding. So I think there is more to come, I don’t think this is it.