Situated at Route 70 and Kings Highway, the organic grocery store is poised to compete with neighboring Whole Foods on price and service.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 25, 2016
Photos by Rob Smith
When Whole Foods opened its doors in Cherry Hill in June 2014, the buzz around the specialty grocer was what its impact would be to the Wegmans market farther down Route 70.
Two years later, the competition has arrived, and it’s sitting just across the street.
On Friday, MOM’s Organic Market opens its first store in New Jersey and 16th overall at 1631 Kings Highway North in Cherry Hill.
The 22,000-square-foot site combines the storefronts of former Classic Plaza tenants Sleepy’s and Mandarin Buffet into a roomy, well-lit, and somewhat subdued shopping environment that General Manager Jen Weigel describes as “a shopping oasis.”
Aisles are intentionally wider at MOM’s than at typical grocery stores, she said. Overhead music is minimal. Store employees are available for assistance, but don’t push product samples.
Staffers carry customers’ bags to their cars as a matter of course, and tipping for the service is discouraged.
“It really is just like a normal grocery store, just with more thought in what we carry,” Weigel said. “They’re not quick decisions.”
To Weigel, setting up shop across the street from Whole Foods is “healthy competition.” Both stores appeal to a similar customer base, so MOM’s tries to differentiate itself on price and selection. The company claims to stock a greater inventory of organic products than its competitors, and keeps a running list of banned ingredients.
Besides food, MOM’s packs a broad inventory of fair-trade organic goods, including PACT fair-trade cotton garments, beekeeper gear, and pre-made wildlife habitats to attract bats, bees, and butterflies.
Olive oil, dry goods, and even MOM’s house-roasted, shade-grown coffee blends are all sold in bulk, with green beans available for home roasters.
All produce is organic, and delivered daily. There’s even specialty goods—like cricket and mealworm snacks, which Weigel said reflect customers’ interests in “sustainable protein.”
“Customers learn from us; we learn from them,” she said.
Tucked away in the front entrance is the fully vegetarian “Naked Lunch” bar (complete with wall decal honoring free-speech attorney Edward de Grazia), which offers to-go hot meals, salads, soups and juices.
Two-pound steamed rice bowls go for $9.50 apiece. Most popular is the “Moler Bowl,”said Zac Lewis of Maple Shade. It features rice pilaf, black beans, mushrooms, peppers, sweet potatoes, kale, feta, and an herb vinaigrette dressing.
The bar is open from 9 a.m. with fresh muffins, and offers full service from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.
“It’s all-organic, vegetarian, healthy options,” Lewis said.
MOM’s is staffed by 40 or so area residents, all of whom are new to the company, and many of whom reside nearby in Camden, Marlton, Cherry Hill, and Philadelphia. Weigel said the store also is looking to hire about 10 more staff.
Starting salary is $12 an hour plus benefits, and employees get a 30-percent discount on groceries. After a year, MOM’s offers subsidies for employees who buy Energy Star appliances, electric vehicles, and organic mattresses, among other perks.
“We’re looking to hire good people,” she said. “Everyone trains in everything, and we promote from within. I was a cashier four years ago.”
Weigel moved from Maryland to Philadelphia two months ago to manage Cherry Hill, which is her fourth MOM’s location in five years.
A former accounting student, Weigel said she resonates with the company’s philosophy of sustainability, and credits MOM’s with giving her opportunities to advance.
Employees frequently tour purveyors’ sites to learn more about the products on the shelves; Cherry Hill staff recently zipped up the road to visit Steve’s PaleoGoods in nearby Pennsauken, for example.
Experiences like those contribute to the variety that makes her want to come to work, Weigel said, adding that many of her fellow employees feel the same. On Thursday morning, the day before the market was set to open, the shop floor hummed with activity, but little noise. For the amount of work that lie ahead, nobody seemed stressed or short-tempered.
Weigel credited it to a workforce of “like-minded” staffers—but just in case, company credos line the rear of the store.
“Let go of ego,” reads one sign.
“Find your gratitude,” says another.
And a third: “Remember your purpose.”
Mom’s Organic Grocery is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Weigel said staff are frequently flexible with those hours, and will open up early if customers are around, or stay later for them to conclude their shopping.
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