Chicago-area grocery chain Garden Fresh offers an extensive line of private label confections as well as a wide selection of international brands

By Crystal Lindell

Adi Mor’s face adorns every package of private label confections his grocery chain sells.  

The ceo of Wheeling, Ill.-based Garden Fresh Market smiles broadly at customers who pass by the Amore brand almonds, salted plantain chips, and Japanese peanuts. And, given that thousands of Garden Fresh Market customers purchase the candies regularly, the smiling logo has lead to local fame and recognition.  

For example, recently, Mor was out to dinner with his wife, when an admirer approached them.  

“This doctor comes up to me and introduces himself and looks at me... and he says, ‘Don’t I see you on my nuts?’” Mor says. “I laughed for months.”  

The brand, named after Adi by combining his first initial with his last name, started about three to four years ago when Mor and his staff realized they could offer customers a better selection of candies if they had a private-label line.  

“We used to have a company on the outside doing it for us, then we realized that with somebody else doing it, we would have to wait and the stuff is not fresh,” Mor says. “So, we decided to do it in-house.”

Yarisbeth Cedillo, a Garden Fresh Market employee packs a private label candy for the grocery stores.

His seven stores – mostly scattered along the northern Chicago suburbs – offer niche products to different ethnic customers. International flags hang from the ceiling throughout the markets, and his private label candy and nuts follow suit.  

“We provide the customer [with] what they want and what’s a big part of their diet and culture,” Mor says. “Nuts and Candy... is very important to some ethic backgrounds, and we want to enhance this... and we make a couple pennies in the process.”  

His favorite are the almonds.  

“I’m surprised he doesn’t have some on his desk,” remarked Julie Smolucha, the company’s marketing director, during a recent interview.  

Mor, an Israeli-native, started his business in 1980 with a 1,000-sq.-ft lot in Skokie Illinois. He originally focused on offering fresh produce, but as time went on, that changed.  

“We were a fruit market and we recognized that Chicago is very diversified,” he says. “And, we kind of [grew] our niche business, where it’s easier to compete.”  

The concept continued to grow, and now Garden Fresh stores average about 90,000 different products, compared to the 50,000 or 40,000 offered at a typical supermarket. Mor describes the feeling shoppers get from first seeing the large selection as the same feeling you’d get walking into “La la land.”  

“We carry a lot more items I believe than the average grocery store,” he explains. “We cater to the needs of the local customer. We give our customers what they want. We don’t force down stuff we want to sell to them, we provide them what they want.”  

Mor says that although they offer ethic foods, the company works hard to make the stores welcoming.  

“Each store is servicing the local area. So, we have the Polish store, [and] Spanish store. Of course we don’t call it that kind of store,” he said. “[Ethnic customers] recognize they could buy all their items out of there, but if somebody else comes into the store, it doesn’t feel like ‘I don’t belong here.’”  

Moreover, the ethnic niche business is especially good for confectionery sales, which account for 6 percent of the store’s annual sales. 

 “Candy is very important because, thank God, the Eastern Europeans are not as concerned about calories,” Mor says with a laugh. “Europeans eat a lot more candy than we do over here.”  

Many out-of-town customers even ask where they can find the private-label confections locally. Smolucha said they don’t have an official online ordering system, but some people do buy some of the candies by the case. Mostly though, they just encourage customers to pick them up at one of their locations.

Garden Fresh Markets in the Chicago suburbs offer about 600 different confectionery products at each of their stores

All the private label confections first are shipped to the company’s home office in Wheeling from various confectionery suppliers, most of whom are based in the Midwest. Then, workers package them into clear, square containers, slap on theAmor label and eventually ship them out to the stores.  

Customers can find all the private label candy and nuts as soon as they walk into a Garden Fresh store.  

At the Arlington Heights, Ill., location, nine rows of confections create a rainbow affect near the produce section under a sign proclaiming ““FRESH PACK NUTS, DRIED FRUIT, CANDY & SNACKS. And, in the Northbrook store, customers pass buy a wall filled with nine rows of confections as they enter and grab a cart.  

Mor says showing off the line to shoppers right away is done by design.  

“It’s very lucrative and we make the most money on the items in the front of the store,” he explains.  

The products sell for anywhere from a $1.99 sale price for dried orange slices to $6.49 for walnut light halves. Mor claims the prices make them a better deal than their brand-name alternatives.  

Shopper Vivian Kramer recently pursed the selection at the Northbrook store and says the prices and selection are great.   “I like the dried fruit,” she says. Then, while pointing to the extensive offerings, she ads, “Look at this wall.”  

TheAmorprivate-label offerings, however, only represent one element of Garden Fresh’s extensive candy selection, much of which focuses on international brands. Aside from the 300 different private label confection offerings, his stores also carry about 300 premium international confections. Those are found either in a separate candy aisle or on various displays around the store and mixed in to the different international aisles.  

Mor says they offer premium confections from Poland, Russia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Asia as well as kosher products. Stores carry brands such as Prince Polo,Mella,LindtandGolden Alps.  

Adi Mor, Avi’s nephew and store manager at the Northbrook location, says the selection is a big hit with customers.  

“If we’re running out, the customers say, ‘When you bring it? When you bring it,” he says, adding that “everything” are his top sellers.  

The mix is targeted not only to loyal fans of the products, but also adventurous impulse shoppers.

Smolucha says even though the confections aren’t in the traditional impulse area near the registers, their placements around the store tends to peak the interest of customers looking for one product and then discovering another.  

As expected, there are plenty of displays to tempt shoppers.

There are clear bins full of Russian candy on an end cap, a stand withMexican Mi Costenitacandies likeBolitochas(hard candy with a spicy and tangy powder core) andMazapan(a sugar and peanut confection) near the produce aisle, andKinder Surprise Chocolate Eggseggs near the registers.  

Because the company is relatively small, Adi Mor says they can adjust their offerings as needed.  

“Our [candy buying] committee is me, Julie, and the guy that supplies the nuts, so it’s very easy for us to switch and make a move and adopt new items and discontinue certain things that are not moving,” Mor said. “We can turn on a dime and we’re very in touch with our product and customer needs.” 

 Mor emphasizes that just because it’s confections, doesn’t mean it’s all sheer indulgence; there are plenty of better-for-you treats as well.  

“Obviously, some of the nuts are very healthy,” he explains. “People will have it on their desks - the almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios. [There’s] some sugar-free candy in there and a lot of stuff that’s really healthy too.”  

Mor says he hopes his confection offerings will continue to satisfy customers while making good business sense.  

“It’s a very lucrative business,” he says. “We give our customers what they want. It’s a great line for us.”  

He adds that he continues to learn about the candy business.  

“I learn new things every day,” he says. “[It’s been] three years. That’s 1,000 days, so I’ve learned 1,000 new things.”  

More importantly, he’s multiplying those learnings to benefit his customers’ cravings.