Outpost Natural Foods: Healthy People, Healthy Communities
Mar 01, 2018 06:38PM
By Sheila Julson
For Outpost Natural Foods, supporting local, sustainable farmers and small food producers has been a core value since the co-op’s beginning in 1970. Today, Outpost has four store locations plus the Market Café at Aurora Sinai Hospital, and the Learning and Event Center at the Wellness Commons. Now over 22,000 owners strong, Outpost is a testament to society’s shift toward healthy food awareness. Lisa Malmarowski, director of brand and store development, shares how the co-op continues to be a leader in Milwaukee’s good food renaissance while meeting today’s tastes and busy lifestyles.
Over the last decade-plus, we’ve seen a seismic societal shift toward food awareness as people embrace healthier, sustainable food choices. How does Outpost continue to meet that demand?
Being a co-op, we’re driven by what our 22,000-plus owners want from their stores. Our selection has changed, depending on what our owners consider healthy and what fits into their lifestyles. We’ve always had a deli, and our prepared foods department has become more important. Convenience is a fact of life for so many people now, and they want meals fast but they also want healthy food. We can easily offer both.
Popular now is the trend towards “convenience vegetables”, which makes it simple to eat more vegetables in creative and tasty ways. Spiralized vegetable noodles are time-consuming to make, so we source them pre-made from a local farm that produces vegetable noodles that are packaged and ready to go. We also carry prepared riced cauliflower, which is cauliflower already crumbled down to use in place of rice or a starch. These kinds of convenience vegetables take on a different role by replacing high carbs with a lower-calorie, higher-fiber ingredient.
Outpost has a long history of working with local farmers and has served as a launch pad for innovative food artisans striving to return real foods to our tables. How is the co-op carrying on that tradition?
We’ve been working with farmers and local suppliers since 1970. It’s just part of our DNA and how we do business. These vendors find us, or sometimes we find a great product somewhere, and we work with the supplier or farmer in order to bring it to our shelves.
One example is Gitto Farm n Kitchen: the owner came to us and said that they started making tortillas and asked about getting them into our stores. Our purchasing team worked with him to help bring his product to market and make it stand out on the shelf. We find that a lot of farmers and smaller vendors come to us wanting to get product in our stores, and we help them do that.
We also work with Venice Williams and Alice’s Garden at our Makers Market, which runs Thursdays and Saturdays at the Learning Center. The market has launched many small food businesses just starting out, such as Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, and has a lot of energy to help the community and the smaller “makers” grow bigger and showcase their products.
While more people are becoming aware of the benefits of eating locally, American palates are also embracing different world cuisines, especially those with unique flavors or certain health benefits. How does Outpost support ethnic cuisine trends and tastes?
I think Outpost has always been a destination for those things, and we’ve always had a good sampling of those global flavors long before most other grocery stores have. Curry, which people are more or less discovering now, has been a staple on our shelves since the 1970s. Newer African flavors are popular, like the Afro Fusion Cuisine products that have a type of flavor profile that’s drawing interest. A condiment like harissa—a Tunisian sauce made from peppers—was uncommon at one time, but now it’s a staple on our shelves.
How does Outpost continue to educate and reach out to the community to introduce people to healthy and locally sourced foods?
We take the concept of store samples one step further. We have “food ambassadors” that do live cooking demos and tell people about the recipe and the ingredients. Outpost’s birthday also coincides with Earth Day, so we hold extensive sampling days on April 14 and 21. Our “414 Day”, on April 14, celebrates all things Milwaukee. That day will also feature samples, so that’s another way we educate—we get people to come in and meet the vendors.
Outpost Natural Foods has locations at 7590 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon; 100 E. Capitol Dr., Milwaukee; 2826 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee; 7000 W. State St., Wauwatosa; the Market Café at 945 N. 12th Street, Milwaukee; and The Learning Center at Wellness Commons, 1617 W. North Ave., Milwaukee. For more information, visit Outpost.coop.