For Kroger, “Fresh” means more than just providing the freshest food to its customers. It also means encouraging innovation and creativity from new products to experiences and events. One such event is Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator, created to discover the best, most innovative, and freshest local and regional products. 

Kroger’s 2021 Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator had three main objectives: provide a clear path of entry to their Fresh departments for regional and local suppliers, create a robust portfolio of diverse product offerings, and deliver a best-in-class shopping experience for Kroger customers. The Supplier Accelerator was designed to attract the top local suppliers in the fresh category and provide opportunities for these suppliers to present to a panel of Kroger leaders in a “Shark Tank” style pitch. 

Finding suppliers to attend Kroger’s Supplier Accelerator

Product categories covered during this event included Produce, Floral, Bakery, Deli, Dairy, Specialty Cheese, Fresh Meat, and Seafood, and there was a special emphasis on supplier diversity. Through Kroger’s Supplier Accelerator, they want to discover new U.S.-based small and diverse businesses to bring onto local Kroger shelves. To get in touch with these innovative and diverse product suppliers, Kroger decided to team up with RangeMe, and our parent company, Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM), to manage the product and supplier submissions and schedule and conduct the two rounds of meetings before in-person finals. 

”Thinking back to when the Go Fresh & Local event was nothing more than a vision, it’s amazing to see the journey our collective teams have traveled in such a short amount of time to bring opportunity to so many small, local, and diverse community members, says Kristen Thompson, Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator Project Manager. “The Kroger team had an idea but needed the expertise of RangeMe/ECRM to really elevate the event and make it a success. Receiving more than 1,000 applications and ultimately finding five of the most wonderful companies to bring to our shelves, we couldn’t have imagined a better first year and are already looking forward to 2022.”   

The 2021 Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator winners

Kroger reviewed more than 1,000 submissions and selected 15 finalists to participate in their pitch competition to Kroger and industry leaders, including Milen Mahadevan, president of 84.51°; Valerie Jabbar, senior vice president of retail divisions at Kroger; Nick Tranchina, president of Murray’s Cheese; Patrick Vihtelic, founder and CEO of HomeChef; Dan De La Rosa, group vice president of fresh merchandising at Kroger; and Brian Kelley, CEO of PearlRock Partners. Each finalist had 10 minutes to pitch their brand and products, provide samples to the judges, and answer questions. From there, the judges named the winners. 

Here’s a look at the 2021 Go Fresh & Local Accelerator winners, who are proud RangeMe suppliers! 

Get to know: Maazah 

  • Yasameen Maazah
  • Maazah
  • Maazah Team

Maazah is a Farsi word used to express something that satisfies your soul or something that hits the spot, just like Maazah’s bright and bold Afghan-style chutney. Yasameen Sajady founded Maazah after growing up with her mom’s famous “Magic Green Sauce” at the epicenter of their family meals until one day, she had enough and knew this chutney needed to be shared with the world. Their recipe calls for fresh cilantro, zesty lemon juice, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, garlic, and fresh ginger to complement the bright, tangy taste of this small-batch chutney. Its vibrant, savory flavor is the perfect addition to any dish from rice to tacos, and even pizza. Their trio of flavors include Original, Hot, and Aioli, and they are all proudly gluten-free, vegan, low-sodium, Whole 30, Keto, and Paleo-friendly. 

Here’s what Sajady has to say about her experience with Kroger and RangeMe: 

RangeMe: How was your experience participating in Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event and pitching to their judges? What’s the best piece of advice you’d share for a brand to stand out from the competition? 

Sajady: Wow! Just wow! The Kroger team and sponsoring partners were amazing. They gave us the red-carpet treatment and made the event so special for each business. The judges represented innovation across Kroger, so my advice would be to highlight why your products are innovative—maybe the innovation is how you do business or how you connect with your customer. Whatever you do that is different and leads to the success of your business you should highlight. My last piece of advice is to speak from the heart. No one knows your brand better than you. 

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with Kroger?

Sajady: We are most excited to learn from industry experts who lead innovation for the largest grocery chain in the United States. We are honored to be a part of the inaugural Kroger Go Fresh & Local Accelerator. This is a huge opportunity for Maazah!

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Sajady: For our retail strategy, we need to get in front of retailers! It’s already very difficult to get buyers’ attention, and the pandemic made it even more challenging. I’ve liked taking advantage of the special programs retailers have to offer, like local, diversity, women-owned product searches on RangeMe as well as the ECRM shows.

RangeMe: What’s next for Maazah? 

Sajady: We have an amazing opportunity to expand on retail shelves across the country and introduce more people to Afghan food and culture. We built a successful family brand we love off a $500 investment. The natural next step is to seek out additional funding and identify the right partners to help grow and shape the future of Maazah. For us, it’s partners who value good food and diversity.

Get to know Nona Lim 

  • Nona Lim
  • Nona Lim
  • Nona Lim

Growing up in Singapore, Nona Lim and her father would watch the hundreds of hawkers cooking and serving delicious foods from stalls. As a competitive fencer and certified Nutrition Consultant, Lim focused on finding and creating healthy dishes throughout her adult life. Eventually, Lim combined her past and present to launch the Nona Lim brand to take her favorite childhood dishes and combine natural and organic local Bay Area ingredients with authentic rice noodles made in Singapore. Nona Lim’s small-batch Asian noodles and broths offer a convenient, clean-ingredient take on authentic Asian street food to fit today’s busy lifestyles, health goals, and sophisticated palates. Each product is a quick-prep option using clean, fresh rice and wheat noodles, whole vegetables, bright herbs and spices, all made with no MSG, no GMOs, additives, preservatives, or colorings. Many are organic, plant-based, and gluten-free. 

Nona Lim shares why she’s excited about working with Kroger and how RangeMe has been a valuable part of their retail strategy. 

RangeMe: How was your experience participating in Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event and pitching to their judges?

Lim: I have been really impressed by how well the entire program has been executed. I was intimidated by the many great brands I was competing against, but I was also excited about the idea of pitching to Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local panel. Kristen, Lizzie, the ECRM and RangeMe teams, and everyone at Kroger were just so hospitable, warm, and friendly. They had organized lots of opportunities for us to get to know them and for the brands to meet one another. 

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with Kroger?

Lim: As an innovator in the industry, we are creating a new category and bringing new consumers and revenues for our retail partners. But we also need a retail partner who is willing to innovate with us and help us shape the category and grow sustainably. We are so excited to find this partner in Kroger, and we can’t wait to get started. 

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Lim: RangeMe has opened many doors for Nona Lim, even more so in the last 18 months when trade shows aren’t available. It has been an excellent way for us to connect with our buyers. We loved being able to apply to the diversity programs and submit our products to the various retailers. It’s also great to see which retailer has been looking at our profile and our products.

RangeMe: What’s next for Nona Lim?

Lim: As Americans continue to seek out Asian food and flavors, particularly when cooking at home, we’re looking to expand our cooking kit offerings. Fifty-five percent of consumers are already cooking Asian food more than once a month, and fresh, simple-prep meal solutions will increase that number. We’re dug in on the idea of restaurant-quality Asian food that’s ready when you are, and we’ve got lots of innovation coming on the culinary front as well as on the technical and production/packaging fronts.

Get to know: Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale 

  • Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale
  • Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale
  • Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale

After appearing on ‘Jeopardy!’ John Morgan took his cash prize and turned his weekend hobby at 7th Street Public Market in Downtown Charlotte into a full-time career by founding Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale with his wife, Myers. But this pimento cheese isn’t just any pimento cheese. It was created by two founders with backgrounds in visual arts, so every aspect of their product – from production to packaging design – is meticulously crafted. Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale offers five flavors of premium pimento cheese, including “Pimento Cheese Royale” (original); “Her Royal Hotness” (jalapeño); “Black and Bleu Blood” (cracked black pepper and blue cheese);  “Baconham Palace” (smoked cheddar and bacon); and “Crown the Hatch” (Hatch chile). Each SKU is made with hand-shredded cheeses and Duke’s Mayo and cream cheese base, which creates a thicker, richer bite than any other pimento cheese in the market. While the brand is in a growing number of locations, every tub of this gluten-free and keto-friendly pimento cheese is hand-made, hand-packed, and distributed using the same production methods as when they started. 

John Morgan provides insights into his positive experiences with Kroger and RangeMe. 

RangeMe: How was your experience participating in Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event and pitching to their judges? What’s the best piece of advice you’d share for a brand to stand out from the competition? 

Morgan: Go Fresh & Local was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. To witness the level of positivity, support, and enthusiasm the folks at Kroger showed us. Let’s just say that in my experience, it’s not common, especially from a company the size of Kroger. Not only did they truly roll out the red carpet for us, they created an inclusive and welcoming environment that immediately put my mind at ease.

If I had one piece of advice, it’s the oldest nugget in the book: BE YOURSELF! I don’t want to speak for them, but I have to believe that the judges were less interested in heavily rehearsed scripts once it came to the pitch and more in how comfortable we were discussing the intricacies of our businesses and how easily we could have a legitimate discussion about our respective trajectories. It sounds kind of hippy-dippy, but I’ve always believed that if you know your stuff, in situations such as this, it’s best to just get up there, smile, and have a conversation.

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with Kroger?

Morgan: I’m fired up about the reach we’re going to have; there are very few places that the Kroger footprint doesn’t cover. For us, exposure has always been the only thing that’s ever slowed us down, so just being able to be pretty much “anywhere and everywhere” is reason enough to be elated.  But something our new customers might not see is just how incredible a company Kroger is to work with behind the scenes. 

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Morgan: I’ve always been very old-fashioned in the idea that “getting in the room” was the most necessary aspect of growing our business. COVID forced me to reevaluate this philosophy. I honestly don’t know how much sanity I’d have left without RangeMe after a year and a half of trying to grow our business throughout the pandemic. The Profile Insights alone would serve to buoy my spirits just knowing there were still folks out there seeking out my little cheese company. Go Fresh & Local is an incredible RangeMe success story for us. All of the information buyers could ever need is directly at their fingertips, and as vendors, we can watch the wheels in motion in real-time.  

RangeMe: What’s next for Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale? 

Morgan: It’s pretty simple: we want to be the #1 pimento cheese on the planet. But as relentlessly as we pursue that goal, we’ll never compromise our quality, and we’ll never compromise our commitment to our team and our customers.  

Get to know: Simply Southern Sides 

  • Simply Southern Sides
  • Simply Southern Sides
  • Simply Southern Sides

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But when life gives you a pandemic, you pivot! Simply Southern Sides is an established 13-year-old business that provided frozen, fully cooked products for buffets and steam tables. When the pandemic hit, that business completely shut down due to the safety precautions around open food services. When Claude Booker and his business partner and wife, Crystal, were not receiving orders, they knew they needed to change their business model. Booker had a vision of Booker’s Soul Food Starters, a line of dry mixes that act as kits and only require a few fresh ingredients to be added so folks can prepare authentic soul food dishes with ease. Within nine months of creating their brand and joining RangeMe and ECRM, Booker’s Soul Food Starters were selling in more than 1,000 physical retail locations.

Booker spoke with RangeMe about their goals for Booker’s Soul Food Starters with Kroger. 

RangeMe: How was your experience participating in Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event and pitching to their judges? 

Booker: The experience was AWESOME! I was so impressed with the overall production and Shark Tank feel. It was truly just like their setup. I was very nervous, but I was so proud that I was selected. I had to keep reminding myself before I went on set that I was deserving and was supposed to be there. I had to make myself stop worrying and just be myself!

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with Kroger?

Booker: The brand exposure combined with the coaching and acceleration that Kroger will put behind me.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy?

Booker: RangeMe is by far the most important tool I have for introducing Booker’s Soul Starters. Other than ECRM, I only use RangeMe. I encourage everyone to use the platform. If not for RangeMe and their product, I can honestly say I could easily be out of business.

RangeMe: What’s next for Booker’s Soul Food Starters? 

Booker: We want to continue to grow and be an inspiration to other Black-Owned businesses. Our goal is to have more than 5,000 retail locations carrying our products by the end of the Calendar year 2022. Kroger helps us get there.

Get to know: Soupergirl

  • Soupergirl Soups
  • Soupergirl Soups
  • Soupergirl Soups

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Soupergirl! Mother-daughter duo, Sara Polon (aka Soupergirl) and her Soupermom, founded Soupergirl, a certified women-owned, plant-based soup company based in Washington, D.C. Soupergirl cooks healthy, delicious, vegan, all-natural soups that rotate with the season. From the company’s Soul Warming Winter Chili to their ready-to-drink chilled Watermelon Gazpacho, each batch of radically delicious soup is cooked with responsibly sourced ingredients – from the seed to the farmer to the bowl. The company empowers consumers to make amazing food choices that better themselves and the world. 

Hear what Polon had to say about pitching to Kroger judges and what is ahead for Soupergirl.

RangeMe: How was your experience participating in Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event and pitching to their judges? What’s the best piece of advice you’d share for a brand to stand out from the competition? 

Polon: Our experience with Kroger’s Go Fresh & Local event was beyond expectations. We were consistently impressed with the kindness and helpful nature of Kroger’s team. No matter their position in the company, every person we met went out of their way to extend respect to us. To have a company like Kroger acknowledge the work small businesses like Soupergirl have done was the highest form of gratification. The best piece of advice we can give another brand to stand out from their competition is to know what you stand for and stand up for that knowledge. 

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with Kroger?

Polon: In addition to building a partnership with the Kroger family, we’re looking forward to the Kroger team’s education, mentoring, and advice. We acknowledge this information is priceless. We can’t wait to be Kroger sponges, soaking it all in and translating that information into a profitable retail plan for both Soupergirl and Kroger and moving us ahead in our values.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? Do you have any favorite features/resources? 

Polon: RangeMe has proven to be an incredible partner. We use this tool for visibility on category reviews, Industry Insights, a snapshot of buyer activity to our profile, and submitting directly to retailers. We also appreciate RangeMe reaching out to us directly when an opportunity arises. They clearly do their homework to best foster relationships between complementary brands and retailers.

RangeMe: What’s next for Soupergirl? 

Polon: As we grow, we’ll continue to dive deeper into our values. Kroger is providing a platform from which we can continue to grow in a healthy and sustainable manner. We will continue expanding our farming network and working within our supply chain to lift up every stakeholder involved in building Soupergirl. One bowl of soup at a time!

Looking ahead at Kroger’s 2022 plans

Kroger plans to launch these winners’ products on its shelves by Q1 2022, and each member will receive business development coaching and opportunities to grow their business. If you’re interested in applying for Kroger’s 2022 Go Fresh & Local Supplier Accelerator, stay tuned! They’ll be announcing details early next year. 

In the meantime, Kroger has a permanent Supplier Inclusion submission link with RangeMe and actively uses RangeMe and ECRM to discover innovative products through specific discovery campaigns for specific initiatives such as private label and frozen food. So make sure your profile is up-to-date with products, unique selling propositions, product images, certifications, and more.

If you’d like the opportunity to get your products in front of Kroger and other major retailers sooner, register for ECRM’s 2021 Global Market: Fall Experience here

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