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Tops Committed To ‘Neighbor Helping Neighbors’

Tops

It’s all about local at Tops Markets. From partnering with local suppliers and working with neighborhood community groups to customizing displays and products to a particular store, Tops continues to localize the shopping experience for its customers. 

“Our mission statement is to be the neighborhood store, and we take that to heart,” said Jeff Cady, VP of produce and floral. 

Every store in the 150-unit chain is adapted to its own specific location, from displays to special services. 

“We find a way to make sure each store is relevant to its particular market,” said John Persons, president. 

That includes offering products from more than 500 local produce and dairy farmers. 

“Working with local suppliers is just the right thing to do,” Cady said. “Why wouldn’t I want to do business with the farmer down the street who’s growing corn as long as he meets all of the standards? It checks every box for sustainability and freshness.” 

Tops’ egg supplier is 15 miles from the company’s Buffalo headquarters. 

“We pay a little more for those eggs, but it’s the right thing to do from a farmer and neighbor perspective,” said Mike Nugent, VP of merchandising. “It’s a relationship that helps both companies continue to thrive..”

That commitment to local partnerships starts at the top with Frank Curci, CEO of the Tops Markets and Price Chopper/Market 32 parent company. 

“We had the opportunity to buy product at a less expensive price from an out-of-state supplier versus buying it right down the street, but Frank would not walk away from that relationship,” Nugent said. 

“He is absolutely OK with paying a little bit more to make sure that company continues to survive. We owe it to the community because the people who work in that facility are our customers, they shop at our stores.” 

Tops makes it a point to include local products in the center of the store as well. 

“We started with a program of adding local Hometown Favorite items and the program has evolved over the years,” Nugent said. 

The chain now helps launch and nurture local lines. Country music artist Claudia Hoyser launched her Hoyser Country Blend coffee, a premium blend made by Buffalo-based McCullagh Coffee Roasters, at a Tops location. The chain launched Sadie’s Relish at its Jefferson store and helped the Black-owned brand expand its reach. 

Tops in-store Brew Market beer caves contain an array of local craft beer brands. 

“During the pandemic, when on-premise was at a standstill, we brought in a lot of local brands and merchandised them heavily with local signage. We helped a lot of small brewers stay in business,” Nugent said.

The chain even adds entire departments to specific stores that can benefit from a specialty. In its Amherst store, the chain partners with Nissan’s Kosher Deli on a leased department that draws the area’s Jewish population to the store. During Jewish holiday seasons, sales in that store’s Kosher section can spike up to 45 percent.

“The specific need of an area dictates the services that we provide there,” Persons said.

Community engagement

Tops’ commitment to local extends to the communities it serves. Each store names a Community Champion, who functions as the voice of the local community to identify specific needs and pinpoint opportunities for Tops to assist.

“We often partner with groups that have a similar mission” – food banks, children’s hospitals, United Way veterans’ groups, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, just to name a few, said Kathy Allen, senior manager, community relations. 

That involvement might be outreach to help raise funds for food banks or funds for the local children’s hospital. It also means helping to create awareness for a cause. 

“Monetary giving is great, but local nonprofit organizations often don’t have the funding to generate awareness,” Allen said. 

Tops helps organizations boost their profile with in-store signage, participation in store events and promotion through Tops social media, weekly ad and in-store radio platforms. 

“There are many different avenues that we use to help highlight them,” Allen said.

The Tops in Education program allows customers to use their BonusPlus loyalty card to donate to local schools whenever they buy Tops own brands. Customers can select up to three schools to benefit from funds that go to school improvements and programs. 

“As they shop, they’re earning money for those schools. Also, twice a year, we run double giveback days to help provide an extra incentive. And it’s really a great way for us to give back to those communities,” Allen said.

During the holiday season, Tops Food for Families program, encourages customers to purchase “little brown bags of hope” filled with nonperishable food items most needed by local food banks. The bags can be purchased in-store and online and are available in three dollar value levels: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Customers can also participate with a monetary donation or donation of nonperishable canned food items in bins in Tops stores.  

“It’s a great way to make the awareness about the great services that the food banks in their area provide,” Allen said.

Tops partners annually with a charity during the Taste of Buffalo and Taste of Syracuse events.

“We choose a charity each year to be the recipient of proceeds from the sale of prepared food at events and funds raised from the prize wheel,” Allen said. “We also invest in a lot of marketing for the organizations as they are included in all marketing and advertising for the event, including space on-site at the event in the Tops tent.”

The company has forged a special relationship with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and partners with the facility for its annual Ride for Roswell event. 

“We provide volunteers from the Tops associate community and are part of the kickoff the night before. When you see 100 associates in Tops T-shirts, cooking and serving food for about 3,000 people the night before the race it’s pretty powerful,” Allen said.

When Tops raises funds for an organization, the company makes sure those proceeds stay local.

“We take a lot of pride in that because we really believe in local. Customers want to support their local communities and see those funds serve their community,” Allen said. 

“We want our customers to see the difference those donations and partnerships are making within the community and we want our associates to know they work for a company that is actively involved and engaged in the communities in which they operate.”

Allen added that Tops associates are encouraged to work with local charities, and many employees serve on the boards of local organizations. 

“Our tagline is ‘neighbors helping neighbors,’ and we just don’t say it. Tops lives it. This is a people business and Tops truly cares about people,” Allen said.

To read the full anniversary section on the grocer presented by The Shelby Report, click here.

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