Lots of people read in the grocery aisles. It’s not unusual to see them studying jars, boxes and labels for ingredient lists and nutrition information and, thanks to local food movements and a big spotlight on agriculture, they are also looking for clues to where their food comes from.
That has been the constant mission, not a trend or marketing program, for Weiland’s Market in Columbus for more than 50 years. “No less than 15 percent of the products on our shelves and in the cases are from Ohio producers,” said Jennifer Williams, owner of the singular family grocery store she operates with her husband, Scott Bowman. While it may sound like a small percentage, the products number in the hundreds and are found under one roof.
From barbecue sauces to salsas, crackers to cookies, fresh meats and cheese, seasonal produce and Ohio crafted beers and spirits, Williams’ goal is to establish Weiland’s as a reliable source for local food finds. It’s as much a response to the renewed interest in seasonal and local foods as it is an effort to return to its roots where customers can still connect with tradition and familiar tastes.
“My great-grandfather and grandfather were grocers,” said Williams, “and my dad, John Williams, and George Weiland were the first owners of this business, which opened in 1961.” The original store was a small meat market in Clintonville that moved and outgrew its space in the neighborhood—twice, until it settled at its current Clintonville location. “No matter where we’ve moved, my dad’s customers followed us, some that he even went to high school with,” said Williams, “and they are shopping alongside younger adults who come here to find their craft beers.”
In 2011, Williams updated the look of the 20,000 square foot store and started to rebrand the image. Maybe because of its smaller size or because of the eclectic mix of products many saw Weiland’s as a gourmet store, a perception Williams worked hard to shake.
“We still wanted to keep to our tradition of providing prepared foods that take people back to their childhood,” Williams said. “We still make ham salad from a 50-year-old recipe, and if we sell out of Johnny Marzetti (an old school macaroni and beef casserole), all hell breaks loose!” Yet the grocer also added an evolving array of foods that are relevant to today’s consumers such as kale, quinoa, farro and more ready-to-eat vegetarian options.
Foods and products made in Ohio have always been available at the store but with the public’s growing demand for local, the selection constantly broadens, and it’s important to make sure the customer understands the scope and impact of local foods. To that end, Weiland’s is an affiliate business to Ohio Proud, the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s marketing program that identifies and promotes the state’s food and agricultural products.
“I’ll come across customers looking for salsa,” said Williams, “so I always point out what’s locally made, like Frog Ranch Salsa from Athens, and most are pleasantly surprised at how many more Ohio made products exist.”
Williams usually shares the story behind the product, where it comes from and who makes it, “because that’s what makes it special.” Like the cookies from Sweet Tooth Cottage in Powell, a once home-produced product before the owner started her own bakery. “She had no living room furniture but her house was filled with cookies,” said Williams describing a delightful scene.
Hog Spit BBQ Sauce is made in the kitchen at Weiland’s where customers can see chef Matthew Will at work. And Crimson Cup Coffee is a local roaster with a business model that includes giving back to the community.
Another aspect of Weiland’s mission is to help its local vendors grow their businesses. “Some of these small vendors are new to marketing their own products,” Williams said.
“We can be an incubator and a place to get started.” Williams acts as a “consultant,” providing honest feedback about everything from pricing to packaging — whatever it takes to help create a product that’s appealing to customers.
“Carrying local products is just the right thing to do because it benefits the local economy,” Williams said. “As a small local grocery, we understand the concept of local better than most, and people want Ohio-made products. It’s not just a marketing theme. For us it makes perfect business sense and instills personal pride.”
Putting it All in One Basket
Weiland’s Market and Our Ohio have created a delicious partnership that makes some of the best tastes and finest products made in the Buckeye State available exclusively to Ohio Farm Bureau members. The baskets are packed with a variety of products from Ohio food businesses including candies and cookies, cheeses and condiments, snacks, coffee and more. View the baskets and see a list of products, plus ordering information.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate and The Locavore’s Kitchen.
If you enjoyed this article, consider becoming a Farm Bureau member and you’ll receive ongoing access to information about your local food community, including seasonal recipes. Membership includes a free subscription to Our Ohio magazine. Learn more about other exclusive member benefits.