Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Detroit Grocer Exemplifies Serving Community - Part 1

James Hooks is not well-known in the food retail industry. For the last 26 years Mr. Hooks has owned and operated a relatively small (24,500 square feet) grocery store on the outskirts of Detroit called MetroFoodland. Despite his modest position in the immense grocery business of today, Mr. Hooks is one of its most pioneering members and exemplifies many of the qualities that we, at People's Community Market, believe define a true community grocer.

Metro Foodland is the only African-American owned and operated full-service supermarket in all of Detroit. Mr. Hooks bought the store in 1984 when Kroger Supermarket, where he had worked as a store manager, decided to pull out of lower-income markets in the Detroit area (to this day Detroit doesn't have a single supermarket operated by a national chain). But, thanks to Mr. Hooks' vision and commitment, residents of Detroit are fortunate to have a locally-owned and independent supermarket that caters to their needs and cares deeply for their well being and satisfaction.

Metro Foodland's presence in inner Detroit doesn't just mean that residents have access to a reliable supermarket. It also means that many residents have a job. Mr. Hooks' store plays an important role in capturing the local food dollars that would otherwise go to stores in the suburbs outside of Detroit. Metro Foodland currently has 60 employees, half of whom work full-time and all of whom live in the local area. And Mr. Hooks' has been such a great employer and treated his employees with such respect that over half of them have worked at the store for over 10 years. This by itself is an outstanding accomplishment given that most supermarket employees leave after a couple of years. Given that employee turnover costs most supermarkets an average of $190k a year, Mr. Hooks has increased his store's financial performance just by treating his employees well.

Mr. Hooks and his team also go out of their way to find food products that their predominantly African American customers want and can't easily find. When Metroland first opened there were almost no mainstream wholesalers that carried ethnic food products, especially for African Americans. So Mr. Hooks began to search for suppliers in the region who he could partner with to grow, produce and distribute the kinds of ethnic food products that his customers wanted. The result is that numerous suppliers opened up around the Detroit metropolitan area specializing in various ethnic food products. While Metro Foodland does source from mainstream wholesalers, they also source a lot of products from smaller ethnic suppliers, which has helped to support more jobs in the region.

There's another very important area where Metro Foodland has been taking some big steps ..... supporting customers' health. In fact, it's in the arena of health, where many people in the food industry are trying to develop new strategies, where Mr. Hooks and his team may be contributing the most significant innovation. And it's these innovations at Metro Foodland that People's Community Market is most inspired by because they're similar to some of our own ideas. Stay tuned for our next blog post about what Metro Foodland is doing to improve health in its community.