Bon Appétit promotes local with Mercantile

Published in FSD Update

Bon Appétit Management Co. has partnered with a group of local artisans to create a program that may have legs beyond the Marin County, Calif., area in which it currently operates.

Called Mercantile, the program has allowed Bon Appétit to sell a variety of jams, jellies, salsas and other items made from local and, often, organic foods. The idea came from Bon Appétit’s CEO, Fedele Bauccio.

“I got the idea from a partnership we formed with former Bon Appétit chef Merrilee Olson, who started a company based around working with farmers in Marin to preserve their excess produce via jams, sauces and pickles,” Bauccio says. “I thought Merrilee’s stuff was so great we should help her distribute it, and that got me thinking that a lot of our corporate guests are pressed for time. We could support local artisans like Merrilee and give our guests some great products they could pick up easily.”

So Bauccio asked Carrie Buckley, the company’s director of merchandising and décor, to develop a retail experience within a Bon Appétit account to show off and sell such products. Buckley’s team created Mercantile and set it up inside Lucasfilm’s headquarters in San Francisco.

“It is a small setup within the café,” Buckley says. “We use some cards to tell the story of each of the artisans and we also have gift wrap, ribbons, cards, etc., because we knew that sometimes people would be buying items to give as gifts.”

A mason jar-shaped chalkboard calls customers’ attention to Mercantile, and the unit, although small, has a sort of country-store look to it.

Buckley says that sales have been bolstered by some marketing tactics, such as using some of the foods in menu items being served in the café and bringing in some of the artisans to do tastings and demos.

“Our goal is to take this mobile,” she adds. “That way we can keep it fresh and new—people might get bored with it if they saw it all the time—and work on the seasonality. We’d like to use not only the canned and jarred stuff but also more fresh product and work in more of our farm-to-fork program.”

Buckley notes that the concept could be replicated in other parts of the country, so long as managers and chefs can make the connections with local farmers and artisans. “Right now we’re trying to do this in the Northwest,” she says.

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