By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — After rising to vice president of stores for Southland Corp., at the time parent company of the Dallas-based 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, Ray Berry in 1980 decided to branch out on his own.
In 1982, after over a year of planning and scouting for a location, the San Diego native opened his first Fresh Market store at Lawndale Drive and Pisgah Church Road in Greensboro.
The Fresh Market, a privately-held, family-owned company Berry chairs, has grown on average nearly 20 percent a year and operates 69 stores in 15 states, mainly in the Southeast and Midwest, generating well over $500 million a year in revenue, says Mike Barry, chief financial officer.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Fresh Market on today is relocating one of two Greensboro stores and on Saturday will hold a gala event at the new store to benefit the Piedmont Triad chapter of the New York City-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The foundation, which has received over $1.2 million from the company, always has been the focus of its philanthropy, says Barry, son-in-law of Ray Berry and his wife, Beverly, who has had juvenile diabetes for over 30 years.
“She has been an incredible source of inspiration for many people for a long period of time,” Barry says. “And that source of strength has been something that helps make this company a better place.”
Believing the grocery business had become too mass-market, commercial and prepackaged, Barry says, Ray Berry wanted to create a company to give customers a more personal touch and focus on fresh produce, quality meats and other perishable products.
“He saw that void before other people did and was able to capitalize on that vacuum in the marketplace,” Barry says. “He filled it and was able to grow very rapidly from there.”
The company expects to keep growing at nearly 20 percent a year, and this year has opened seven new stores, with seven or eight more in the works, including its first in Wisconsin, Michigan and Maryland.
Its strategy is to “fill out” the Southeast, expand in targeted markets in the Midwest and build a presence in Mid-Atlantic states and New England, Barry says.
That growth will help generate more funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Each year, each Fresh Market store sponsors a “sidewalk sale” of root-beer floats and hotdogs to benefit the foundation.
And in the Triad, the company sponsors the Hope Gala, the annual fundraising event to benefit the foundation’s local chapter, which serves 14 counties.
Since launched in 1995, the sidewalk sales have generated over $700,000 for the foundation, and the gala and other events like local walks have generated over $500,000, says Mike Conrad, chapter executive director.
This year’s walks will be Sept. 29 in Greensboro, Oct. 13 in High Point, Oct. 20 in Burlington and Nov. 3 in Winston-Salem.
The opening of Fresh Market’s new 20,000-square-foot store in the Jefferson Village shopping center in Greensboro, replacing a smaller one at Guilford College Road and Friendly Avenue, will include events for children, a raffle of donated items, and a cook-off featuring chefs from four local restaurants.
Fresh Market will donate to the foundation 10 percent of store sales that day.
Overall, the opening is expected to net $20,000 to $25,000 for the foundation.
“They are the most important supporter that we have,” Conrad says.
“They come up with innovative ways they can contribute to JDRF to find a cure to diabetes. It’s who they are and what they are.”