5320 NE 32nd Avenue
We'll do whatever it takes to make New Seasons the best shopping expe rience in town.
New Seasons Market has carved a niche for itself in the Portland groc ery store market, carrying a wide range of natural and organic produc ts, grown or produced in the Northwest, alongside basic brand-name pr oducts. Approximately two-thirds of each of its six stores' product m ix is natural or organic, while the remaining products are convention al brands. About 11 percent of its product mix is produced locally. N ew Seasons also has a socially responsible ethic that permeates every level of its business.
1999: A New Kind of Food Store
In 1999 Brian Rohter, Stan Amy, and Chuck Eggert, with the backing of their families and about 50 friends, opened the first New Seasons Ma rket in Portland, Oregon. Their mission was to make people aware of h ealthy food and the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Their plan w as ambitious: To become a key player in the Portland grocery field wi th five stores serving Portland neighborhoods by 2001. The three want ed to create a company that had a "true commitment to its community, to promoting sustainable agriculture, and to maintaining a progressiv e workplace," according to the company's web site.
All three men were veterans of the grocery business: Amy had owned an other Portland-area chain called Nature's Northwest until he sold it to General Nutrition Corporation in the mid-1990s. Eggert was the pre sident of Pacific Foods, a manufacturer of soup and soy drinks, locat ed in nearby Tualatin, Oregon. Rohter had worked as a consultant for Nature's and, once the store became an independent subsidiary of Gene ral Nutrition Corporation, as its executive vice-president for three years. Rohter left that job when Wild Oats of Boulder, Colorado, purc hased Nature's then seven-store chain in the spring of 1999. "My hear t wasn't in it anymore," he explained in the Oregonian in 2000 , referring to the fact that General Nutrition Corporation had allowe d him the authority to make decisions he deemed appropriate, while Wi ld Oats set policies at headquarters.
Following retailing trends, the first New Seasons store had a bakery, a delicatessen, and a salad bar and take-out meal area, including a "Hot Wok," where customers picked from fresh ingredients for a meal c ooked especially for them. The deli did not get its food from offsite industrial commissaries; instead, New Seasons hired a well-known loc al sous chef to make everything from scratch. The atmosphere of the n ew store was friendly and interactive with well-labeled aisles and sh elves, eye-catching displays, and countless signs instructing custome rs to "Smell me!" or informing, "We tried this one on vacation--it's great!"
Joining the trend led by Nature's Northwest and later embraced by Who le Foods out of Austin, Texas, and Trader Joe's of California, New Se asons was part of a new generation of grocery stores. Unlike the mega -supermarket, according to The Hartman Group, a Washington-based mark et research and consulting firm for the wellness industry, the new gr oceries sold an experience as much as they did food or other products . "[W]hen we talk to consumers who get a babysitter so that they can spend a couple hours roaming around Whole Foods, it's a whole differe nt scenario than when grocery shopping was a pain, and you wanted to spend as little time there as possible ...," offered the president of The Hartman Group in a 2002 Oregonian article.
But what set New Seasons apart from the other markets in its category was that it refused the label of either traditional supermarket or h ealth food store. "We're not a natural foods store. We have everythin g from free-range chicken to Frosted Flakes," Rohter explained in a 2 000 Oregonian article, referring to the store's philosophy to have locally owned stores serving local people and to cater to all fo od preferences. New Seasons also made a point of promoting local econ omic and ecological sustainability by showcasing community vendors an d farmers as well as national producers.
In keeping with their emphasis on community, New Season's founders ch ose sites for their planned stores that had the potential of becoming commercial and social centers for neighborhoods. They settled on a s maller store footprint than other supermarkets, with doors that opene d onto sidewalks and streets, and added a second story for storage an d offices. They planned benefit events, such as bento barbeques and s lice-of-cake days, to raise money for local nonprofits.
New Seasons was also different from most other markets in its emphasi s on customer service. Every employee at New Seasons had the authorit y to make whatever decision necessary to keep the customer happy. The se employees, also viewed as part of the New Seasons community, were well taken care of; anyone working 20 hours or more received full-tim e benefits, which included medical and dental insurance for the emplo yee and his or her family.
Of course, not everyone was as happy with New Seasons as those who sh opped or worked there. After many Nature's Northwest employees joined the exodus led by Rohter and other higher-ups, Wild Oats Markets Inc . sued Rohter in November 1999 for "misappropriating Wild Oats' confi dential and proprietary information," using inside knowledge to unfai rly compete with Wild Oats, stealing away Nature's managers, and acqu iring leases for store locations that Wild Oats had targeted. Rohter filed his own legal action, and eventually both companies dropped the ir claims.
2000-01: Three New Stores in Portland
New Seasons opened its second store in Portland in 2000, and then its third and fourth stores in 2001. At 29,000 square feet, stores three and four were bigger than the first two, but were still small compar ed to other supermarkets, which averaged 50,000 square feet. The new, larger size was required to include more conventional products, such as cereals, diapers, and over-the-counter cold remedies. "To truly b e a neighborhood store, we really needed to expand the center of the store," Rohter explained in Gourmet News in 2002. Onsite baker ies baked 17 different kinds of organic breads daily (a portion of wh ich were donated to local Meals on Wheels programs) and offered in-st ore dining. The third store also housed the company's new corporate h eadquarters.
Neighborhood leadership participated in lobbying for the fourth store , which included gaining approval from the Portland Planning Commissi on for permanently closing one block of a city street. A local commit tee also weighed in on the store's exterior design, its lighting and maintenance, hours of delivery and operation, landscaping and parking , prices, and security. Situated on a lot that had been vacant since 1994, this new store featured the then standard deli bar with soups, salads and sandwiches, "Hot Wok," as well as an in-store bakery. Ther e was also a store nutritionist available daily for free consultation s and tours of the store, which employed 110 workers, many from the s urrounding neighborhood.
Some neighbors voiced reservations about the fit between New Seasons and the area's working class community. One community member, quoted in a 2001 Oregonian article, said, "I wonder sometimes how wel l that store, being the kind of store it is, is going to serve some o f the poorer people." Some of the banks from which New Seasons sought to borrow money for the project also wondered. However, according to Rohter in the Seattle Skanner, "Completion of this pro ject is a real tribute to the strength of the Concordia Neighborhood Association in this community. Those folks had a vision of what they wanted to see happen here--they wanted a full-service grocery store, and they just dug in and wouldn't let go until it was accomplished."
With the addition of its fourth metro store, New Seasons became able to spread the costs of doing business across more operations, making it easier to achieve profits. "We have a lot of overhead for a busine ss our size," Rohter explained in the Oregonian in 2001, refer ring to the number of employees on the store floor and the large numb er of buyers New Seasons employed to negotiate with local vendors as well as national suppliers.
2004-05: Leading the "Slow Foods" Movement in Portland
A fifth store in 2004 added to the company's economies of scale and c reated an additional 120 jobs. This store, like the last, opened in a neighborhood that had no local supermarkets and drew criticism from those worried that the building was too big and would lead to gentrif ication of another working class community. In addition, supporters o f an established neighborhood grocery coop protested that it would st eal business away from that store. But the $3 million, 25,000-squ are-foot market, with a 12,000-square-foot office and storage space, was under construction in December 2003 and reached completion as pla nned. Store five was the first New Seasons Market to include an onsit e pharmacy.
By 2004, New Seasons had become one of the cornerstones in the "slow food" movement in Portland. This movement celebrated groceries that w ere fresh, local, and peddled in a progressive workplace. An article in the Oregonian in 2004 quoted legendary environmentalist Pau l Hawken, who in Grist Magazine had hailed New Seasons as "suc cessfully forging new, sustainable corporate practices ... a model of what a grocery store can do to help farmers and citizens and communi ties." A year before in the Oregonian, Rohter himself had ackn owledged, "We're pleased because our social mission and our business mission are aligned. There is growing interest in the origin of foods . People want their dollars to support local farmers."
In 2005, New Seasons hired Lisa Sedlar as its new president when Bria n Rohter became the company's chief executive officer. Sedlar had bee n the former vice-president of sales and merchandising for Colorado-b ased Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy. At the close of the year, New Sea sons had 900 employees and was planning to add another two stores in 2006. The company's continued growth, attributable in part to smart m arketing, in part to maturation, in part to the fact that people had begun spending more money on premium food and less on dining in recen t years, now seemed well assured.
Principal Competitors: QFC; Wild Oats Markets, Inc.; Whole Foo ds Market, Inc.; Zupan's Markets; Trader Joe's Company; Fred Meyer St ores, Inc.