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March 24, 2021

Forager expands service network with Arizona grocery chain

the interior of a large supermarket with lots of produce piled up and things like that Courtesy / Bashas' Family of Stores Bashas' Family of Stores, which operates more than 100 grocery stores under several names in Arizona, has partnered with Maine-based Forager, which has a platform that connects local producers to buyers.

A large Arizona grocery chain is the latest retailer to partner with Maine-based Forager, further expanding the fast-growing footprint of the platform, which connects grocers and other businesses with local food producers.

With the addition of Bashas' Family of Stores, which owns more than 100 stores in Arizona and New Mexico, Forager has retail partners in 13 states, as well as nearly 500 hundred local farmers, fishers and makers across its network. 

Since last summer, the company has doubled the footprint of partner businesses and suppliers, adding 50 vendors across both fresh and non-perishable suppliers and products, according to a news release.

Chandler-based Bashas’, an 88-year-old family-owned business, operates more than 100 stores across Arizona, and one in New Mexico, including Food City, AJ’s Fine Foods, Eddie’s Country Store, Bashas’ and Bashas’ Dine supermarkets. With nearly 9,000 workers, the company is one of Arizona's largest private employers, second to the Albertson's supermarket chain, and 18th largest employer overall, according to 2019 numbers.

The partnership will significantly increase the number of suppliers and locally sourced product offerings in the chain's stores, building a local sourcing program that can accommodate more vendors and meet the growing demand for local food, the release said.

“Forager can help us scale a large local program across our entire network of stores after our pilot launch and we are excited about the budding partnership and the positive impact that we can make in our local communities," said Steve Mayer, Bashas' senior vice president of merchandising, marketing and procurement. 

Forager CEO Joe Blunda said the Maine company is excited about connecting the wide variety of local producers in Arizona to the grocery story chain.

“Forager allows grocers to overcome the challenges that have hindered their local purchasing in the past to finally meet consumers’ demand for locally sourced food," Blunda said in the release. "We continue to close the gap between grocers and suppliers to build direct relationships, and help our partners like Bashas’ build a lasting competitive advantage that will drive foot traffic into stores to get these products as society continues to reopen in the coming months.” 

a screen shot of a computer dashboard shows a list of products, where they're from and how much they cost, it says basha's as well as forager at the top
Courtesy / Forager
Bashas' Forager dashboard shows available products, who makes them, and how much they cost. The 100-plus store Arizona chain has partnered with Forager, which provides a platform for producers to connect with local buyers.

Significant growth expected

Forager expects significant growth this year as grocers and local producers seek each other out across the U.S., the release said. 

Forager’s digital platform is free for producers, who input their product information, including prices and availability. Buyers — grocers, co-ops, and other businesses that buy food — pay a fee to join and order from local producers through the platform, which also keeps track of things like inventory and sales trends.

A survey last fall of 1,000 consumers commissioned by Forager found 85% would switch grocers or buy more food from a grocer that offered more fresh local food. During the pandemic year, consumers increased their focus on local food products, and they now expect to see increasing local selections at their grocery stores across all categories, the survey showed.

In Maine, Forager accounts for $250,000 to $400,000 a month in local food volume. Founder David Stone told Mainebiz last fall he estimates the app used for 5% of Maine’s local food transactions.

In October, Roche Bros., a 21-store Massachusetts chain also announced a Forager partnership.

Forager partnerships don't just include grocery chains — in Maine, Forager also works with Central Maine Medical Center, MaineHealth, the University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono and the Maine Department of Corrections.

"Our goal is to make local food available anywhere,” Stone said. “To make it so accessible that anybody anywhere, from any device, any time, can buy from the local community, any product they want."

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