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Local Flavor

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During a recent trip north of the border to Quebec City, I found myself standing in front of Pot en Ciel, a gourmet housewares store in Le Petit Champlain section of the city.

Walking through the doors of the quaint shop, I was immediately greeted by Linda, the store’s owner, who was a character from the moment we said ‘bonjour.’ She was hip, sharp, had a dry sense of humor and her hair highlighted every color of the rainbow.

Without hesitation, Linda was out from behind the counter and began to show off her wares. She started by showing local products made in Quebec, discussing the artisans and how closely she works with them to develop products that are exclusive to Pot en Ciel.

Then, she showed me hand-painted products from France (French roots run deep in Quebec) that she brought in after she realized her regular shoppers clamored for products from the country.

Even when talking about big-ticket items that one could get elsewhere, she kept it local. Standing in front of a table full of Revol cookware, she shared why the locals love it and what they cook in it. She even had an antidote for Chirpy Tops, noting, with a laugh, that locals buy it, “to trick their friends into thinking they’ve had too many drinks.”

Linda may have the edge on touting local — she is in a tourist spot — but every gourmet insider could learn something from her tactic.

As gourmet store owners, you need to fit merchandising trends, new products and best-sellers into an algorithm that is different for every store. But this is one piece of advice that works for everyone — find a way to get local, even with the most generic of products.

Talk to local chefs in the neighborhood about what they’re seeing people eat. What vegetables, flavorings or dishes are piquing the interest of their customers? Check out menus at restaurants and see what they’re using to prepare their entrees.

In a recent conversation with Amy Pomp-Lorette, store manager at Seattle, WA-based Mrs. Cook’s, she told me that the restaurant scene in her neighborhood has pushed sous vide cookers into a top-selling spot in her store. Dan Saklad, owner of Cary, NC-based Whisk, echoed that thought about raclettes — consumers have seen them in restaurants and are looking to bring the experience home.

In this issue, we explore several topics that all came back to local, which continues to be an opportunity for independent gourmet stores that gives them an air of distinction.

Ben Salmon, owner of Kitchen a la Mode in South Orange, NJ, discussed his open call for local products. Salmon auditioned local artisans and makers for a spot on his store shelves, picking out ones that filled gaps in his merchandise while also adding new categories, like bath soap, to his product mix.

And our retail profile this month, Jamie Butler of Escalon, CA-based The Butler’s Pantry, uses other local businesses as a marketing tool. She works with them on events, live videos and social media posts, capturing their customer base. This, she told us, always ends up driving foot traffic into her store — traffic she may not otherwise have.

I left Linda’s store with a souvenir for myself — a coaster depicting Le Petit Champlain that was hand-painted by a local artist — to remember my trip. It was a shopping experience I will recommend to anyone heading into this region of Quebec City.

By giving me a glimpse into the local scene, Linda successfully spread her customer range more than 550 miles away.


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