A rough summary of my holiday each year would be ‘driving around random bits of America while eating my own body weight in unhealthily cooked dead animals and annoying my partner by insisting on visiting every single supermarket I encounter.’

A recent jaunt around Lake Michigan was a textbook Roberts vacation. Plenty of burgers and BBQ were consumed and plenty of grocery stores were chalked up. Luckily, on some occasions, the supermarkets we encounter are healthy enough and pretty enough to keep everyone happy, and Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market was just such an example. The store is in an up and coming area of Milwaukee, surrounded by the construction of new university buildings (I think) and plenty of apartment blocks. Perfect territory for a healthy food store that promises affordability alongside freshness and abundance.

Even before you walk in the place, there are some pleasing architectural touches (the water tower out front is lovely) that hint at some of the joys within. There’s plenty of focus on service and customer experience here: free produce for kids is well flagged at the front of the store and community engagement is communicated through bulletin boards devoted to charitable endeavours.

Produce is at the heart of the store. In the retailer’s own words: “The foundation of healthy eating is often based on incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets. Therefore, at the core of our offerings is an abundant produce department, overflowing with fruits and vegetables, fresh from the farm, often locally grown and much of it organic. We’re so passionate about produce that we’ve made it the nucleus of the store, ensuring the bounty of fruits and vegetables is visible from all other departments.”

This is a pledge that is lived up to well – produce really is the fulcrum of the store, complemented by myriad counters and departments that come together to create an awesome proposition that is contained within a relatively modest footprint.

Highlights around the store’s perimeter include a growler bar and coffee shop (plus a seating area for both) and counters for sushi, pizza, meat, fish and salad. There are plenty of value-added services available at these counters, meaning that the store becomes a compelling destination for food-for-now and food-for-later as well as for a regular grocery trip.

The overall look and feel of the place is most pleasing. Lots of natural light helps complement the industrial architecture (exposed brickwork, concrete and steel), with colourful graphics, a fair bit of timber and some judicious spotlighting all combining to make the product the hero. Signage – a mix of printed and handwritten – is more than adequate, communicating price, promos and provenance very clearly indeed.

Customer service was beyond superlative as we bought a few bits and pieces, concluding a shopping trip that was thoroughly enjoyable. This was my first experience of Fresh Thyme. I really hope it isn’t my last.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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