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Fairway Firsts: How We Heralded the Food Revolution and Why We Rock

If I were to list all the foodstuffs we pioneered over the years here at Fairway it would require a great deal more time and effort than I am prepared to give at the moment.  Cheeses?  Too many to even start thinking about.  Olive oils?  Ditto. 

But off the top of my head I immediately recall a few cardinal items…such as the first shipments of things like Alsatian sauerkraut (aged a year in Riesling wine with fatback).  Alsatian horseradish by a brother-and-sister-run company that even grows its own horseradish root.  Pruneaux d’Agen, the world’s finest prune.  Espelette chile in no less than seven different guises, including Bixi-Bixia, the great Basque bbq sauce made with the Espelette chile pepper, named for a lowland village located in the very center of the pepper’s growing area.  Royal Medjool dates from Paradise Valley, California made their debut at the Fairway cheese counters.  Clementines, which have become staple, were premiered at Fairway Markets long before they entered the coast-to-coast distribution channel. 

Real Andalucian gazpacho.  Badoit mineral water.  Alsatian spaetzle.  Provencale tapenade.  Iberico ham.  Brittany fleur de sel and ‘sel gris’ (sea salt from the Guerande).  Banyuls vinegar and Pineau Des Charentes vinegar.  A.O.C. Perigord walnuts.  Tropea onions from Campania and echalions (the torpedo shallot) from Poitou.  Rose De Lautrec pink garlic and Tarbais beans for an authentic cassoulet from near Toulouse.  Rhubarb cider from Alsace.  Brittany’s vintage sardines.  Argan oil from Morocco and butter waffles (gaufres) from Flanders.  Kosher harissa from Paris and kosher balsamic vinegar from Modena. 

Dried hibiscus, linden blossoms, verbena and peppermint  — hothouse infusions from a grower south of Paris.  The world’s most celebrated lentils – the pinks from Champagne, the blondes and Du Puys from the Auvergne, the greens from Berry.  Soissons and flageolet beans from Western France.  The great Catalan Escala anchovies and the equally great French Catalan Roque anchovies from Collioures.  The very first shipments of the seasonal harvest and pressing of “new” (novello) extra-virgin olive oil from Western Sicily, a nod to France’s breathlessly awaited autumn arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. 

Boquerones, the wonderful white pickled anchovies from Catalonia.  Verjus, unsweetened wine grape juice from the Perigord.  Moroccan dwarf Beldi preserved lemons.  Lorraine’s cooked, peeled and vacuum-packed French beets for salads and borscht.  We import mountains of these  beets, and we now have a kosher mark on them!  Anchovy-marinated Aragon olives.  Nova Scotia blueberry nectar.  Olio Santo, the beloved ‘sanctified’ (hot chile-infused extra-virgin olive oil) from Western Sicily.  Crème fraiche from Normandy.  Mascarpone and Fontina d’Aosta and Mozzarella di Bufala from Italy.  Butter from Normandy.  Sea-salted caramels from Brittany.  I could go on, but I trust you get the picture.  As I say, I haven’t even broached our contribution to the availability of great cheeses and even greater olive oils. 

Fairway has also made it easy for uncountable food-producing innovators whose real mission has been to showcase, to show off, to debut and premier their dream products on a stage that would capture the attention of the widest audience possible, the most influential audience in the world, and in as short a time and with as little effort as possible. 

Fairway has never participated in that undeniably prevalent industry shame referred to as ‘slotting fees’ wherein food producers are exorbitantly extorted by many supermarket chains before that chain’s stores will offer (slot) their food products.  We have instead literally prostrated ourselves before food products that we deem noteworthy, and this merely to make our stores more exciting, more cutting edge, more interesting than our would-be competitors. 

Olive Oil and OlivesThose honey containers that are squeezies and emit honey from a hatch on the bottom of the container?  They made their debut at Fairway.  Stonyfield yogurt?  It made its debut at Fairway.  Fage Greek yogurt also made its debut here at Fairway.  Frisee, the chicory lettuce that’s like eating the sun was first offered by us.  Mache, too.  And even radicchio – yes, radicchio was unheard of in New York and the rest of the country before we began importing it.  Wild mushrooms?  Oregon and Washington State chanterelles and morels, Italian Piedmont porcini, fresh white Piedmont truffles, live Italian snails (bobbolucci), even khat, the chewable, mildly narcotic leaf – all of these things made their debut at Fairway. 

And when we decide to private-label something, we go against all conventional wisdom in our process.  Private-label is an extremely important initiative for North American supermarket chains, and the process over the years has become rote.  The mission is to put your company’s name on items that will result in sales that deliver a greater margin than the item’s most popular brand.  Fairway’s way of creating a profitable stable of thoroughbred racehorse private-label items is totally at odds with the industry’s convention.  We make decisions on whether or not to put our name on something because we love an item’s  quality, NOT because we want it to compete with the category leaders, and NOT because we can make an inflated profit.  We want a private-label item to say to our customer, “This is what we’re about; this is something we shop and purchase for our own families in our own stores, because we simply have to have it in our own homes”. 

And this attitude extends to the way we manage various departments within our stores — our cheese departments, for example.  Seeing as how our cheese departments are driven by the guy who wrote the cheese industry’s bible, CHEESE PRIMER, me, Steve Jenkins, we take great pains to train our counter people in the style I created throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and which has become New York’s standard.  We steep our counterpeople in the history, geography and nature of each of the +-600 cheeses we offer, so that every cheese has a story, and a significance, and a best accompaniment, and the result is that a customer is challenged to muster the strength to deny himself the cheese he has just tasted liberally and been romanced about, also liberally, or as liberally as that counterperson chooses to be.  This results in not just a good sale, plus an add-on sale (the accompaniments!), but also a desire on the part of the customer to return for a reprise of the experience that just occurred right before his own eyes.  And mouth!

And you said grocery shopping was a tedious bore….





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