How we choose what to carry in the store

I’ve mentioned that with the store expansion, we are looking at new products for the store. Lots of new products. It may surprise you to find out that there has been quite some conversation about what to carry. It’s not as simple as all of the previous 11 farmers we’ve carried before.

In the past, I’ve reached out to farmers directly. They were always small family farms. Someone who was doing what we do, but with a different product than we carry. For instance, our poultry farmer, Brittany Ridge Farm (Hi Kevin and Christy!) supplies our chicken, turkey, pheasant, rabbit and eggs. At the time we partnered with them, we had our own chickens and eggs but with the quality of their product I was able to get out of the chicken business and let the experts do it. Yes, Lucy has chickens again and we have eggs from our farm. But you don’t see me bent over a processing table cutting up chickens once a week, and I tell Christy every time I see her how much I appreciate all her and Kevin’s hard work. We have 11 stories like that. A farmer doing a great job, who we develop a personal relationship with. We go to the farm or meet half way and pick up their products once a week, twice a month, once a month, etc.

But at some point, you can only do so much. I can’t continue to add products and go pick them up from the individual farms every week. I’d need a full time truck driver just going up and down the road. That adds cost of time and money, both in short supply on a farm. So we started looking for farmers and producers who had products we could deliver, or get delivered UPS, or who work through a distributor, or who have employees who live near us, or a customer already in Raleigh where we can meet them to pick up our order. I hoped we’d find 4-5. So far we are sitting at around 40! Not all will survive taste testing and final selection but right now it’s looking awesome for what is to come.

As we have discovered and evaluated different products, it’s called into question just what is our goal? What is our criteria? What is our, God I hate to say it, our mission statement? What kind of store are we going to be? Is it farmer direct only? Are we a farmer’s market? Is it eco, hippie, natural only? After much discussing, some arguments both heated and most simply debated, we’ve arrived at this conclusion.

The store is first and foremost, a reflection of our family. What that means is, if you find it in the store, you find it in our pantry. Period. As I’ve said many times before, my number 1 customer sleeps beside me every night.

So what does that mean to our selection process? It means that almost everything will be natural. It will almost always be from North Carolina, or at least from the South if not. It means if we can help out a small operator, we will do it over purchasing from a larger, more established operator, even if it costs more. It means if we know the people and like them, vs ordering out of a catalog, we are more likely to carry their product. It means if the label is risque or vulgar, we won’t carry it. It means if the label is funny, especially darkly funny, it will have a good chance of making it to the shelf. It means if it’s something we buy routinely, we’ll stock it in the store. Mustard? Pickles? Salsa? Hot sauce? Yep, we buy all of those all the time. It means that we may stock something that you can find at Lowes Foods or Whole Foods. Are we trying to compete with them? Nope. We’re trying to make it convenient, first to SWMBO, but also to you our customer. When you buy a pork chop from us and we hand you a recipe to go along with it, the ingredients are in the store to make that recipe. That means no additional stops on the way home.

But most importantly to all of the above. If we really like the product. We really like the people. We really like the story. We will break all of the rules above in order to carry it. I’m on the hunt for olive oil right now. I don’t think I’ll find a local, NC based, olive oil farmer with distribution to Raleigh. But we use olive oil literally by the gallon in our kitchen. When I find one I like, it’s going in the store. Will that fit in with our “theme?” That has been the source of the debate. Our theme, nay, our mission statement is:

We are foodies, parents, and farmers. We cook 2.75 meals per day on average, 365 days per year. We want the best food we can get that is wholesome, flavorful, local, and practical. Usually in that order but not always. It may not be the cheapest, it may not be the greenest, but given all variables, it is the best we can do.  If you are in our store, then you are standing in our home and in our pantry. Enjoy.

Why that sounds like it should be crafted into a poster. Hmm, give me a minute. Ninja Cow Farm store mission statement

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