Connecting to Your Community: How Shoppers Grew to See Confreda Farms as Family
At Confreda Farms, you’re family! With almost a century of striving for perfection and wanting nothing but the best for their customers, this family-run business is a shining example of the importance of putting your community first.
We spoke to Jonathan Confreda, store manager and 4th generation member of the Confreda family to learn more on how they put themselves on the map as a Rhode Island landmark.
Hubba: How did Confreda Farms get started?
Jonathan: We started in 1922 and we’ll be going on our 94th year now. We started off with just my grandfather and his father in Warwick, Rhode Island. We were primarily wholesale, selling to local grocery and convenient stores and we were mostly a vegetable farm. Then my dad came into the picture and started doing more of the farming as well. In the 1970s, when he was roughly about the age I am now, he started a bedding plant division (so like, flowers, plant starters, a little bit of perennials here and there but mostly annuals) which he grew himself.
Then right around the 1990s, we got more land in a different part of Rhode Island in a very rural area. We slowly bought out the surrounding farms as they retired. Eventually people would see the trucks of all the produce, as we were taking them from Cranston down to Warwick where our packaging operation was. People in the neighbourhood would see the produce and ask, “can I buy this?” My grandfather decided to start a small stand and whenever a truck would drive by he would pull a bushel of produce off of it and put it in the cart so that by the end of the day he had enough for everyone coming home from work to shop there.
In 1997 my father opened a little Farmer’s Market grocery store as well as a garden centre for people to buy all kinds of plants, fertilizers, etc. We also had an ice cream shop, bakery a little playground area and that’s what became the Confreda Farms today. As we slowly expanded, the retail slowly developed into a full line of gourmet grocery product.
H: How important is your community to you?
J: We are local and family-owned. I started doing retail [for Confreda Farms] in 2010 and since then we’ve seen huge growth. People are trying to be healthier, but they also care about their community in more of a local setting. What we’re seeing now is our community actually growing. People are coming to us from farther away. The capital of Rhode Island is actually about 14-20 miles away from here and people are coming from there to shop with us on a weekly basis. The relationship we have with our customers [is very important to us], we want that family environment, we want to be welcoming –
H: What type of shopper do you cater to?
J: The area we’re located in is very community-based. The type of people that shop there care a lot about the quality of the food they bring in which is why they shop with us versus a regular grocery store. They care about freshness; they know there’s a flavour difference between a can of ragu and a jar of gourmet pasta sauce. A lot of them were founded on the idea of a home cooked meal, so they appreciate quality to the nth degree and they’re willing to pay more if it’s a quality product. We feel the same way so we try to have the best products we can find. We also try to be competitive but obviously if you’re going to compare quality to price, you have to charge more.
The type of person that shops at our place might not necessarily be the 20-something year old that you would expect to shop somewhere like this. It’s actually mostly families with parents between 30 to 40 years old. They care about what they eat, they want to know exactly what’s in it, they want to know where it’s from, where it’s produced, if it’s non-GMO or organic – they want to know every little bit of information about it.
H: What do you look for when bringing in a brand/product?
J: When we’re looking at products we look at the stuff that works, that we’ve brought in over the years. We do have a huge Italian community, especially in Cranston, so we bring in products that may cater to their needs but we’re also seeing the general health-conscious consumer and they’re interested in buying anything considered a healthy item. [Our shoppers] don’t only want all the information on a product, they also like a bit of a convenience factor too – they may be looking at just a can of soup mix but they still want to know all the information on the ingredients.
In terms of the type of products that have succeeded [with us],
They want to know how [a brand] started, why their product is different, why there’s more of a human touch to it over a grocery store brand (for example is it small batch, handcrafted, etc?).