Fresh Thyme isn’t your ordinary grocery store. Their 26,000-square-foot stores embody a farmers market-type of feel that offers fresh and healthy food to their growing customer base at 75 stores throughout 11 states in the Midwest. Fresh Thyme’s mission is to bring access to natural foods that are free-from, clean label, and organic that customers will feel good about. To achieve the best quality products for their customers, Fresh Thyme has an all-star team of knowledgeable Category Managers who are able to find a wide variety of organic, private label, and conventional natural products. One of those all-stars is Kenny Hausmann, Sr. Category Manager managing the bulk foods, dairy, and frozen team.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Hausmann to learn more about what Category Managers are responsible for at Fresh Thyme and how they use RangeMe to find the types of products they want to bring into stores.
RangeMe: What does it mean to be a Category Manager at Fresh Thyme?
Hausmann: Category Manager is definitely a broad term. At Fresh Thyme that pretty much means you are the business manager that owns your part of the business whether that’s for branded or private label. This means you’re responsible for everything from the product assortment, merchandising, marketing, pricing, working with our cross-functional supply chain partners, you name it.
In my role at the senior level, I’m the one who oversees the whole division and the direction we’re going with the given respective areas.
RangeMe: What are the Category Managers at Fresh Thyme looking for to support their customer’s needs?
Hausmann: Our customers trust us to be a leader in the natural and organic space, therefore, we look to provide them with the broadest depth of assortment, the brands they are looking for, and providing them with an in-store experience where we can answer any questions the consumer may have, whether it’s about plant-based or keto or how CBD products will work for them.
RangeMe: When did you learn about RangeMe and why do you choose to use RangeMe?
Hausmann: I have been using RangeMe for a while now as I used it in my previous role and I am currently using it at Fresh Thyme. RangeMe has always been this really great tool to leverage and help merchant teams identify new vendor opportunities and new item trends which helps us bridge the relationship as best as we can before even getting them into the office. We use it as a research tool to screen new vendors. This helps us identify new trends and stay ahead of the competition.
RangeMe: What resources does RangeMe provide that help you in the product discovery process?
Hausmann: Definitely Collections. The option to set up category reviews has also helped us discover new products at the right times as well as help suppliers submit to us at the right times based on their product type. RangeMe acts as this discovery tool but also as a vendor engagement tool. It takes us through the process of incubation of an idea to the retail shelf. Going into 2020 we plan to leverage RangeMe for everything it has to offer.
RangeMe: On a typical day, what’s your process like when you log into RangeMe?
Hausmann: I usually log in once a week and check on our inbound submission messages or log in after seeing a product in the collections email that sparked my interest. Once I’m logged into the platform, I’ll review products of trends I’m looking to bring into stores. I’ll check out the supplier’s product offering, their brand story, and see if I want to connect to learn more.
RangeMe: When you’re browsing suppliers on RangeMe, what makes a brand or product stand out?
Hausmann: We’re a transitional retailer, not a conventional retailer so we’re looking for natural, organic, and free-from products. If the product meets our ingredient standard and meets our objectives, we’ll look to see if the supplier is RangeMe Verified™. If the supplier is verified, it shows us that they have done their diligence and have all the right forms needed to start doing business quickly if we decide to move forward. It gives us confidence that the brand is retail-ready. Other supplier qualities that spark our interest include certain certifications such as a Women-Owned Business or Certified B Corporation, marketing plan, and if they are enthusiastic to work with us.
RangeMe: Is there anything you wish suppliers on RangeMe did more of on their profile?
Hausmann: Some of the best suppliers we found on RangeMe explained really well what they’re product was, shared updates on their products, but also helped us understand their brand story and how their products came about. They let us know that they’re working with distributors, having those conversations, even if they don’t have it set up, they’re at least starting those conversations. As we become larger, it’s getting harder for us to incubate brands, so when suppliers have a product that fits with our format, they understand where our business goals and objectives are, and put in the research to how our distribution process works, we tend to gravitate towards those suppliers.
RangeMe: What trends are Fresh Thyme Category Managers looking to bring into stores in 2020?
Hausmann: Diet-tribes are here to stay, so we will always be looking for plant-based, keto, and paleo goods. We’re looking for free-from foods such as soy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and so on. One of the biggest trends we’re looking for in 2020 is sustainability, so we’re searching for brands with eco-friendly packaging and if the product is recyclable.
Fresh Thyme has big plans in 2020! They plan on continuing to build their processes and grow their product assortment that encourages healthy living. With the help of RangeMe, Category Managers will be sourcing new and innovative brands that meet Fresh Thyme’s initiatives and support what their customers need.
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