Spreading Carolina cheer
It is undoubtedly the most rewarding feeling to love your job. You’ll hear Krista Morgan proclaim, “I love my job!” many times a year.
Spreading local “cheer” is her yearlong –well, joy.
When you see local items on the shelves of Lowes Foods, you have Krista to thank. The mom of two little ones and wife of a chef (Nate, Corporate Chef at Joyce Farms), she is the not-so-silent cheerleader and ringleader of getting those local products on the shelves of the Winston-Salem-based grocery chain. She is the Locally Grown Account Representative, which began as a partnership between Lowes Foods and the North Carolina Growing Together project. “I started in produce, sourcing farms and connecting them with our program. I dabbled in other departments like dairy and eggs.” Now Krista visits farms across the states, gets her hands on new potential products and attends and speaks at conferences to help local makers spread their wings and fly to the shelves of local Lowes Foods.
She said her favorite aspect is working with local farmers, many whose farms she has toured extensively. “My heart lies with the produce and the farmer. I love every farmer I meet,” she told me. “I just respect what they do so much and to create a market for them makes me happy. I love to discover their passions and create projects around what they want to do.”
Krista is also the liaison between the company and the local makers of the jams, sauces, nuts, et al., you eventually see on the shelf. “For many local suppliers, Lowes Foods is their first retailer, the first to give them a shot. I love to figure out a successful program that works them.”
Managing small farmers across two states is no small task. She finds the farm or maker (or they find her), decides which stores are right for them, their delivery route and coordinates how that product gets to the store shelves. It’s Krista that tracks the sales and gets to know if the vendor or farmer can handle more sales. If so, they get added to more stores and hopefully into a warehouse deal. That’s the business, the warehouse deal. Until then, every farmer and local supplier relationship with Lowes Foods is different.
“One farmer will deliver to these five stores, another delivers to 10 completely different stores, and some have products that go to the warehouse,” she said.
Working closely with farmers and makers gradually led to Krista spearheading a project that’s near and dear to her—The Carolina Crate, a box of produce sourced from and packed by N.C. farmers. The crate is quite convenient for people who can’t get to a farmer’s market but has a Lowes Foods nearby. It’s like a CSA box but one that can be picked up at the local store.
And now the holidays have brought the Carolina Cheer Box. “Guests really dig gift boxes,” she said. What started out as gift boxes at store openings turned into this entire pet project. “The Cheer Box is my favorite thing to do during the holiday season. A lot of people want to support local. It’s not always convenient to do so.” This is Carolina giving, all in one box. Each box displays some local items with a bit of information about each maker. Many of the items are handmade and delivered by the maker themselves. Also, being in the Carolina Cheer Box is a great advantage for them. “When a store is ordering from vendors, it’s ordering cases at a time,” Krista said. “This allows me to order pallets and that’s game-changing for a small business.” Next year, she’ll be able to place larger orders from that vendor. The boxes have a great selection of what N.C. has to offer. “Local sauces and ingredients; snacks…each has a popcorn, nuts, jams, cookies. Most local vendors are small to mid-size, and you can’t just get their product anywhere.”
Krista even locally sourced the shipping materials for the box, from the crinkle paper to the foam sheets. “It has to be packed with shipping in mind. If you saw me five months ago, you’d see me kicking them around to make sure they were secure,” she said with a laugh.
The Cheer Box works like this: A few are available in stores, but the main way to get your Cheer Box for yourself or as a gift is online. There are three options: North Carolina ($29.99), South Carolina ($29.99) and the big box featuring both N.C. and S.C. ($49.99). Shipping is a flat $5 per destination. Many local companies also send the boxes out as corporate gifts to give the gift of the Carolinas.
Some of the local items in the N.C. box include Brasstown Chocolate, Chad’s Carolina Corn, Fogwood Farms Ghost Pepper Jam, Lowes Foods Salsa, Salem Baking Moravian Cookies, and Sunshine Beverage Energy Drink. (Items such as Brewmaster’s Malt Mustard and Cackalacky Nuts can be found with the others in the Big Box.)
The Cheer Box is available now, but once they sell out, they’re gone until next year, and there are about 4,000 boxes still available. To order a Cheer Box, visit lowesfoods.com.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.