Born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Eric Smucker saw a missed opportunity for the producers of the region to supply their wares to potential customers in DC, who were hungry for high-quality produce, meat, dairy, and artisanal products. He founded Smucker Farms of Lancaster Co. to fill this void and provide a means for small farmers who have opted out of the industrial food chain to sell their goods in DC. With the help and support from his family, Smucker opened the storefront on 14th Street in November of 2011.
Why did you decide to stock products that are made in DC in addition to those from Lancaster County?
It seemed like an obvious choice at the time to carry products made by people who live right in the neighborhood. My focus is, of course, Lancaster County, but that is…a result of having an in-depth knowledge and relationship with our growers and manufacturers in that area, rather than excluding producers from other locales. And now that we are fully launching our wholesale business with fresh produce, cheeses, meats, and some manufactured goods, these long-term relationships are now tracking both ways. We purchase manufactured goods from DC producers, while also selling them the base inputs coming from our 35 farmers. …[I]t is great to… give those farmers an option instead of having to take time away from their farm to attend farmers markets. …especially… when it is an Amish farmer who has to hire … drivers just to travel … hours in both directions to sell his products.
When and how did you first start working with Union Kitchen?
It most likely started with a cookie, the very well known Blind Dog cookie of Internet and DC fame. We have been carrying Blind Dog sandwiches and cookies for a long time now, as we don’t have the structural requirements to do our own café/bar in the store. …When [Cullen and Jonas] told me about the idea of doing a commercial share, I was more than excited as it was filling an obvious need for a few of the DC producers. Now, seeing how many people have been willing to jump at the chance to launch their own products in such a supportive environment as Union Kitchen has been very satisfying.
What did you first hope to achieve when opening your business? Have your goals evolved over time? How has partnering with Union Kitchen furthered your progress toward these goals?
My goal is, and it has always been the same goal, is to move as much product as possible from my home area in and around Lancaster County to consumers here in DC. So the goal hasn’t evolved as much over time, but the means of achieving this goal most certainly has. Partnering with Union Kitchen has meant being able to provide a wider array of products in the store to make the retail outlet more appealing, and also gives us the chance to move more raw product from Lancaster to producers, other retailers, and restaurants here in DC.
From retail sales to wholesale services to a CSA, your business provides a broad range of services and satisfies the needs of a diverse group of customers and clients. How does each aspect of your business contributes to its overall success?
The initial model was inclusive of all three lines of service: retail, wholesale, and a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Though we initially relied on logistical partners in Lancaster to manage the back-end of the wholesale and CSA program, we have now taken the logistics of those two aspects under our purview. This has been a very good decision… and we were able to make the CSA program much more customer friendly with allowances for “hold days,” and online payment options.
Now, how do those three lines of business tie together? The retail and CSA are practically co-dependent. The retail location gives us a convenient CSA pick-up location. …The CSA provides critical foot traffic to the retail operation and allows a broader swath of customers to be introduced to our products. … Wholesale, well that is what a former colleague in a past life would call the “gravy.” By selling to other retailers, restaurants, and producers, you are driving down your costs of transportation and logistics with each new account. Your CSA and retail operations are the meat and potatoes and foundation for your reputation. That foundation then supports larger scale clients trusting who you are, the product you represent, and your ability to provide them with the services they need.
What distinguishes Smucker Farms from other markets and grocers in the city?
I suppose we were the first seven-day-a-week DC store to focus on…products from Lancaster County and the Mid-Atlantic, but I don’t know if that makes us unique. I think it just makes logical sense. I’m really encouraged to see other business using similar models because the more outlets there are, the easier it is for small producers in the Mid-Atlantic to reach a wider audience. We do have some unique items that people will come to the store specifically for, such as Emma’s Popcorn or jams and soaps from Christina Maser… but those items are now going on our wholesale list for everyone, so you may see them popping up on some retailers’ shelves. … I am more than happy to lose having these kinds of products exclusively if it means increasing the amount of product we are purchasing from these manufacturers.
Which products from Union Market’s Members have been customer favorites?
People go crazy Three ANOA Sauces and Glover’s Pepper sauces. And no one can ever get enough of Capital Kombucha. Those guys are king right now.
What’s next for Smucker Farms?
I am a humble person, so an empire of thousands of CSA boxes every week, a large scale wholesale operation with dozens of farmers supplying dozens of accounts that can compete with the big boys, and a few more retail outlets might satisfy us, then again it might not. Beyond what we are growing now along those three lines, I would like to launch my own line of products. I haven’t come up with the full vision of what that will look like, but it is something I am looking at advancing over the next few years.