Natural Foods Merchandiser

Industry Innovator: Todd Stevenson

Many natural foods retailers carry locally grown products. But what does it take to turn your entire store into a provincial purveyor?

Many natural foods retailers carry locally grown products. But what does it take to turn your entire store into a provincial purveyor? Todd Stevenson and his business partner, Shannon McLaughlin, have spent the last nine months finding out. Their 180-square-foot In Season Local Market in the trendy Denver Highland neighborhood only offers natural, organic or sustainable products grown or made within 250 miles of the store. The market’s motto, “if it’s not from here, it’s not in here,” resonates so much with shoppers that within six months of opening, In Season was already posting its first profits, and is launching a second Denver-area store this month.

We decided to make our definition of “local” 250 miles from the store because that’s how far my ’96 4Runner can go on a tank of gas. A lot of our suppliers meet us on the highway exits.

There’s a lot of meat and dairy in Colorado, and seasonal produce, but canned goods and flour—not so much.

In the beginning, we really had to beat the bushes to find local products. But now, at least six new vendors a week approach us.

We have a country-store feeling where we talk to everyone who comes in.
The store’s so small, we don’t even have shopping carts. It’s like Tetris trying to fit everything in. But that also means everything rotates through in eight to 10 days.

In the summer, we expand onto the store’s patio. We put the produce in outdoor refrigerators with sun shades, ranchers come by and grill and give out samples, and once a month we have four or five vendors do a tasting that’s a fundraiser for a local charity.

We’ve got locally made baby food, honey-based personal care products, pancake and cookie mixes, juices, jellies, even T-shirts and kids’ toys.

If we carry something, we prefer it uses 100 percent local ingredients. That can be difficult considering that we don’t have any salt in Colorado.

We’ve started working with local manufacturers to find local ingredients for their products. For Julie, who makes Nana’s Coffee Cakes, we helped her find a local flour producer. For Sassy Girl Foods, which makes stocks, we helped find local chicken.

Shannon and I don’t come from a retail background. I worked in industrial design and she was a restaurant manager.

We opened in winter because that’s a time when people have lowered expectations for local produce. We started with apples, potatoes, onions, beets, beans and mushrooms. Then it dropped to beans and mushrooms. But we opened to 400 people, and they kept coming.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.