By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
When Kum Ng looks around Maple City Market’s neat, brightly lit aisles, he sees a lot of products he’s proud to offer the market’s traditional customers. Now he wants to attract to the store Hispanics and younger customers who use social media to communicate their likes and dislikes.
“This is the market (direction) we need to go in,” Ng said last week.
Ng is the new general manager of the market, which is a co-op that was incorporated in 1981 to offer healthy, locally-grown food to Goshen-area residents. The store also offers a lot of gluten-free and vegan food items as well as personal hygiene items that don’t contain artificial dyes and fragrances.
Ng was hired in August and has been commuting to Goshen from Madison, Wis., where he had been working as a chef in a Chinese restaurant.
On Wednesday afternoon there was a small notebook on Ng’s desk in an office no bigger than a walk-in closet. Ng had been jotting down the demographics for the Goshen community. He said while the community is about 32,000 people, the market’s reach into the community has been limited and he wants to expand that. He gave the example of marketing to Goshen College students who want healthy food at an affordable price. He also said he wants to let local shoppers know Maple City Market has plenty of prepared meals, fresh meats, vegetables and dairy products that Americans purchase at big box markets.
“We have all these things here,” he said.
Bob Rademaker is a retired pastor. He is also the business development manager for the market. He said co-op membership is about 1,500 people and has been growing during the past three years.
“Our sales continue to rise. Every year our sales increase. So that is a good thing. Our deli is doing well. People who are in a hurry want to have a healthy lunch,” he said.
Other good news for the market is that the mortgage on the building at 314 S. Main St. is paid off. “ We are in a very good financial position,” Rademaker said.
Membership is open to everyone for $100. That fee can be paid in a lump sum or in $20 yearly installments over five years. Once paid, the membership is for life.
The market is open to the public without memberships every day. It’s just that non-members don’t get the special discounts provided to members.
Many of the products in the market are locally sourced. Beef comes from pasture-raised animals from farms in Goshen, Nappanee and Dowagiac, Mich. The beef is hormone and antibiotic free, according to market literature.
Poultry products come from chickens raised in free-range conditions on Goshen and Ligonier farms and are also chemical-free.
These are examples of products that Ng said will help local residents lead a healthy lifestyle.
He said the obesity epidemic and the prevalence of many preventable diseases in America are due in part to families having bad dietary habits and passing those habits on to the next generation.
“They put the wrong things in their body,” Ng said. “In the long run the body reacts.”
He said one of the challenges of running the market is informing potential customers about the health benefits of changing their lifestyles.
“It’s a process of educating people why they should eat things from us,” he said.
Some customers come to the market as they age and change their diets, Ng said. Others come in after they have suffered a health crisis. And some customers look ahead at their lives and want to avoid preventable disease and seek out healthy products at the market.
He likened shopping for healthy foods to putting money in the bank for the future. “It’s an investment in yourself,” Ng said.
More than food
Employee Rachel Beyeler-Jimenez was in the market’s center aisle, taking stock of the soaps, lotions, shampoos and other body-care and wellness products the market offers. Many of those products are certified organic. Some of them she has used on her own children.
“All my kids were sensitive (to additives),” she said.
One product she sends to school with her son is CleanWell hand sanitizer because it doesn’t contain alcohol, to which her son is sensitive.
Showing off some snacks for school lunches, Beyeler-Jimenez picked up a pack of rice cakes. She said they make great school snacks, especially when they are combined with jelly or peanut butter.
Picking up another package, she smiled and showed it contained seaweed. “My kids may be a little unorthodox,” she said. “But they like seaweed.”
Other products she showed didn’t contain synthetic dyes. Instead they were dyed with carrots or beets or some other organic product.
Do these products cost more than products sold at national outlets? Beyer-Jimenez said some do and some don’t.
The market’s body-care and snack products don’t cost any more, “If you are smart about it and watch for coupons and sales,” she said. “But that is what you would do at other stores anyway.”
And, customers who become members can obtain discounts that further offset the cost, she said.
Brooke Rothshank of Goshen had just pushed her sleeping baby son in a grocery cart around the market, under the pictures of local growers, past the fresh vegetables and frozen food section and around the outside aisles. Her other toddler son had tagged along. After paying, she stopped to explain why she shops at Maple City Market.
“We like to shop here because they have different options not available in other stores,” she said.
Wednesday’s trip was to pick up some flour and millet. The grains she uses in baking. The millet also makes a good hot cereal, she said.
For Ng, he sees the market’s customers, like Rothshank, as being informed on health issues and wanting to maintain their own good health.
“You are buying into a culture we have here,” he said.