Over 30 vendors to offer samples, savings
by BETH ALTENA
“This is our chance to showcase what we are capable of,” said Ric’s Food Center Store Director David Brickner. He refers to the winter Taste of Ric’s to be held this Saturday, December 4, from noon to 4 p.m. at Ric’s, 6767 Belding Road. The event is also a celebration of the store’s three-year anniversary.
“We’ve had our share of problems. Being here three years, maybe people will realize we are here for the long haul and plan to be here to serve them into the future.” Brickner said the Taste of Ric’s, which the store holds in summer and in winter annually, continues to be a huge success—if you consider giving away a ton of free food a success for a local grocery store. Brickner does. In addition to serving, for example, a hundreds pounds of meatballs during the Taste of Ric’s, the store supports the community by daily donating to local outreach center Lean on Me. A food drive held at Ric’s recently allowed the public share in supporting people who are struggling financially, and Brickner said volunteers who staffed the event were very grateful for every bit of food and monetary donation.
The Taste of Ric’s is also a community outreach, in a way. Brickner said for both the store and the vendors who participate, it is a chance to shine and invite people to try something new. Loyal customers appreciate the events and those who have never, or not recently, visited the store will be reminded of what Ric’s has to offer.
“It is really a joint venture between us and the merchants,” Brickner said. Many of the store’s vendors are Michigan companies, and the person-to-person interaction during the Taste of Ric’s allows customers to see the people who are providing their food and vendors to see who they are serving. “People don’t realize many of these are locally-owned businesses, he said. An example is Sweet Tooth, a store right in downtown Rockford which specializes in homemade caramel corn and other goodies. “They offer a really good product and market it well,” Brickner said of the Sweet Tooth owners.
Others—Keebler/Kellog, Schuil Coffee, Max and Emily’s Cheesecake, Chuck and Dave’s Salsa, Pop’s Bare Bones BBQ and many more—are also Michigan companies offering unique foods from their own recipes. The twice-a-year events also include plenty of activities, a bouncy house in the summer, a holiday theme for this event, so the kids will have plenty to do if they fill up fast. Enjoy live music, including the choir from Hope Church, take pictures with Santa and his elves or decorate cookies during the taste of Ric’s. “We know it will probably be messy,” Brickner said of the cookie decorating. “We are okay with that.”
The four hour event is months in the making, and Brickner said his staff is energized looking forward to the day. First-time participants are forwarned to expect to give out a lot of product. At the Taste of Ric’s the sheer number of vendors offering samples, so far over 30, gives a festive atmosphere and people not only feel comfortable receiving the samples, but are willing to stand in line. That’s not necessary.
“We had to reorganize how we handed out the samples,” Brickner said of the learning curve in earlier Taste of Ric’s. He said during the first few, people seemed to think they had to start with the first table, the deli, and work around the store. Instead the samples are provided buffet-style and people can wander around and pick and choose.
Brickner said the interaction with the public is his favorite part of his job, and the feedback he receives about the Taste of Ric’s events from customers, both regular and new, has been overwhelmingly positive. Listening and acting on feedback is a big part of the Ric’s philosophy of doing business. Brickner said he and the staff at Ric’s encourage their customers to let them know how well they are being served. “I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know about it,” Brickner noted. He said if anything, the clientele in the Rockford area are almost too polite. “They don’t like to complain, but if something isn’t right, we need that feedback.”
An example of how important it is to hear what customers are thinking is the Healthy Living products Ric’s offers and now, over 200 gluten-free items the store carries. “I hear ten questions a day about gluten-free,” Brickner said. “It is a big deal, but I didn’t know that until I started hearing about it.” He compared gluten-free products to organic items. “At first they were price-prohibitive and were thought of as sort of a “hippie” thing. Now they are more and more common and more affordable,” he said of organics.
Brickner said the store is doing well, and have worked very hard over the last three years to provide great service at a great price. When planned, the Ric’s was designed to be the hub of a thriving community with hundreds of homes within walking distance. The development suffered from poor timing with the crash of residential real estate market and to date not a single home has been built. The other businesses planned to open alongside Ric’s have also not yet materialized. Despite those unfortunate conditions, the Rockford Ric’s has done well.
“It’s a very mobile society. People do look around for great value. We have great value.” Brickner said Ric’s isn’t designed to be everything to everyone, and he is fine with that. Competing against the Walmarts of the world isn’t what Ric’s is trying to do. “They lure you in with deals on electronics and you buy the other stuff because you are there,” Brickner said. “We offer great value every week and I would put my sale items up against anyone’s, even the “big boys.”
Shoppers who are familiar with Ric’s will have a chance to try some items they may have never had before, since the vendors are encouraged to provide seasonal or special products for the Taste of Ric’s. Anyone who hasn’t ever been in Ric’s or hasn’t visited in awhile has a chance to see how the store has changed and improved in its first three years. “I’m really excited about this,” Brickner said of the upcoming event and the store’s anniversary. “I love to show people what we are capable of. It’s been an adventure, but it’s been a good adventure. It’s amazing that three years can sneak away so quickly.”