August 10, 2012
From time to time I have a chance to chat with some of the retailers who work with small food businesses and I love to share what they tell me they’re looking for from the artisans they work with. Not too long ago I sat down (via the telephone) and talked with Norm Plumstead of Traverse Gourmet – a site that launched in September which features the artisan food producers from one of my favorite spots; Northwest Michigan. Here’s some of the main take aways from our conversation….
On what inspired Traverse Gourmet…
My wife and I love food to begin with and we have a real fondness for the area in which we live. We live in Empire which is the entry to Sleeping Bear Dunes and you can’t help but be inspired it. We happened to know a lot of the artisan food producers personally and my wife also works at Grocery Daughter’s Chocolate which is just down the street from us and we looked around and we realized there wasn’t a way for people to go to one spot to send all of these artisan foods as a gift or for folks who travel here and want to reconnect with the food. Your only option is to go to the invididual sites and that’s just not realistic for most people.
It’s not just the east and west coast that holds the honor of being artisan food focused…
Michigan is the second most prolific food growing state – we grow the second most fruits and vegetables only behind California so there’s a great diversity of food. In Northwest Michigan we grow a lot of fruit – apples, peaches, cherries – I think what has grown around that is a lot of value-added businesses and we also have an up and coming wine scene here and wineries and so that has a combination starting to make this region a foodie destination. You may have seen Mario Batalli summers here and has talked up the area as a great foodie destination. A lot of these artisan producers sprung up in these various niches – we take it a little bit for granted because we do have artisan organic preserve makers, there are the people we get the bread from they have a wood fired brick oven, etc. and so there’s all these small what once was cottage businesses that have grown and blossomed and we’re become a real foodie destination.
We’re not as big as Seattle or Portland or you know California but it’s a very concentrated and committed group of food artisans. It’s a pretty small – as you can well imagine – community of food producers. And really we at Traverse Gourmet carry about a dozen or so producers but there’s probably 3-4 dozen in the area. We just tried to go after the producers who we thought really highly of and also focused a little bit more themselves on being fair trade and organic and as naturally and environmentally conscious as possible.
Traverse Gourmet’s approach to bringing on new artisans to their site….
We definitely consider new artisans. We would like to add some more to our offerings but just have to make sure the fit is right. For example, we work with a coffee company that has actively supported – to the tune of more than $200,000 – the building of schools in the area where their coffee is grown and harvested. That type of holistic approach in our artisans is important to us.
At Traverse Gourmet we do the inventory and the order fulfillment. There are other models out there but that wouldn’t have allowed us to put together gift bag and gift box options. We felt like controlling that element for that process to make sure that things got out the way we wanted them to. Not that the artisans wouldn’t do that themselves but if we’re putting the Traverse Gourmet label on it so we inventory most of the things that we sell on the site however a few of the artisan products that are more perishable that we pick up the day we ship the product. Coffee for example and the bread and the chocolate right when the order is placed. So that’s as fresh as possible.
On who their customers are….
We think the folks who come here to visit in the summer are our target demographic. Our site is a way for them to reconnect with our little slice of paradise and get food for themselves or gift it to friends when they’re back in the big cities for the rest of the year.
On a side note – I spent every Summer growing up in Northern Michigan (check out this prior post about my first entrepreneurial endeavor which actually took place up on the shores of Lake Michigan) and distinctly remember how good the food up there is. If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself you can find the Traverse Gourmet site here.