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Checkout: Harvest Fresh Grocery keeps community fresh for 30 years

This women-owned natural products store in McMinnville, Oregon, is known for its deli, meat and seafood. Find out what gives this small retailer its big heart.

Melaina Juntti

May 7, 2024

6 Min Read
Checkout: Harvest Fresh Grocery keeps community fresh for 30 years

If you travel to McMinnville, a small city of about 35,000 nestled in Oregon’s wine country, you can’t miss Harvest Fresh Grocery and Deli. The popular independent natural products store sits on a corner along the main drag of McMinnville’s historic downtown, nestled inside a building that’s over a century old. Harvest Fresh isn’t big—just 10,000 square feet—but the women-owned outpost is vibrant, friendly and beloved by locals and tourists alike. 

Credit co-owners Kristin Schofield and Susan Sanford, who purchased the business in 1994, moved it downtown in 1999 and transformed it into a community-focused, full-service grocer. Renowned for its top-tier deli, meat and seafood, Harvest Fresh offers about 14,000 SKUs with a heavy emphasis on local, organic and natural foods.

Now 30 years into this endeavor, Schofield reflects on her and Sanford’s journey, the store’s place in the community and the joys and trials of operating an independent natural products store in 2024. 

What was your path to becoming a natural products retailer?

Kristin Schofield: I was a chef for 25 years in French restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco. My partner has a degree in finance. Right before she started here, she had her own janitorial services business. She was doing really well. I’d work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; she’d work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.—and we made the same money! We wanted to do something together. Maybe that’s not such a good idea with your spouse [laughs]. But no, it has worked out fine.

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Why did this particular opportunity grab you?

KS: When we purchased the business in 1994, it was a local produce stand on one side and a food co-op on the other, kind of in a garage. The produce stand opened in 1986 and was called Harvest Fresh, so that name had been around. It was the values of that business—using local produce and supporting local farmers—that we really appreciated, and that’s why we bought it. We brought in organic produce, expanded the groceries, added some health and beauty aids and put a little deli in the back.

Tell us more Harvest Fresh today. What do you carry?

KS: We are known for produce because of the original concept. Now we feature conventional and organic. Buying local and being sustainable to the communities has always been our mission and a passion for us. We work directly with local farmers in the summertime. Three or four weeks out of the year, most of our produce is local.

When we moved into this building, we brought on more of the usual departments. We have dairy, frozen, deli, meat and seafood, health and beauty aids, bulk—the full range, but we’re small. We carry natural groceries, specialty groceries and local breads. And we squeeze it all into about 10,000 square feet! We also rent a little space across the street where we have a service bakery.

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We’re known for our deli, which does very well. What’s interesting is our deli is 30% of our sales and grocery is 40%, so almost even. Sometimes it goes 35% and 35%. That is unusual in comparison to other grocery stores.

You also have catering business?

KS: Yes, that’s because of my chef background. We always felt we had to diversify our business and offer many things because we’re in a small community. So we do full-service catering—full prime rib dinners or whatever you want—and our deli does trays, to-go orders and gourmet cheeses and meats.

Photos of deli sandwiches, fish and cuts of beef on a blue background. Credit: Canva

What do customers love most about Harvest Fresh?

KS: We’ve been here for a long time, and we have a ton of products to offer. They really like that we are part of the community and they feel like they are supporting local businesspeople. When they come in, it’s a very friendly environment, and they might see people they know. We’re a neighborhood store. They like that we carry direct from local vendors, and we get good comments about our deli.

We also have a great meat and seafood department, and that brings people in. We keep it really fresh and different. We offer only antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and only wild fish. That commitment is why people shop here. Other than that, I don’t know, they just like us! The reviews are often “It’s such a cute store!” or “The people are so nice!”

What are your main challenges as a small independent in a smallish town?

KS: The challenges of today are totally different than any other challenges we’ve ever had. Price changes are huge. We’re always trying to keep up those and with what people ask for. There are a lot of supply issues still. And then maintaining cashflow is a challenge because you don’t know what [products] you’re going to get in—or what people are going to buy. In a small town like this, you can go to two or three stores in one morning. You could come here for your favorite things, and whatever you can’t find here, you could go to several other grocery stores in town. That is a challenge.

If I look back, we had some great years of business because we were the store to go to. And then around 2015 or 2016, the grocery stores came into the natural foods marketplace, so we saw a little dip. But we stayed busy until the pandemic hit. We are still the go-to deli in town, but with groceries, we just never know from day to day, so I think that’s the worst challenge.

What do you love most about your work?

KS: I love the industry, for one. I’m all about food, which is why I picked that as a career. I love the opportunity to support farmers and be part of a community. And I love our customers. They are great, and that’s what keeps me here. We have wonderful people who’ve been coming here the whole time we’ve been open.

It’s generational as well. I’ll cater somebody’s wedding and then their parents’ funerals and then their kids’ graduations. It’s very rewarding. When you see kids grow up and become adults and put back into the community, it’s just a warm feeling. I know almost everybody who comes in. Some days I’ll walk from one end of the store to the other and get stopped two, three, four times—and the store isn’t that big!

Do you have a succession plan?

KS: Well, we are getting old. I am 68, and I work full-time; my partner works part-time. But right now, I love coming to work still. I’m excited about being here. And so, I don’t know, maybe in a few years, we will look to sell the store. We don’t have family who wants to take it, so that’s not an option. So eventually, we’ll probably sell.  

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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