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Pat’s Foods In Michigan’s UP Has ‘Been Lucky With Good Teams, Culture’

Pat's Foods, ran by the Campioni family in Michigan.

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:42 am

The Campionis have been in business in Michigan for several generations. Based in the Upper Peninsula, the family operates 11 Pat’s Foods supermarkets, six hardware stores, three convenience store/gas stations and four car washes in the state and neighboring Wisconsin.

Pat's Foods
Owners Joe and Ben Campioni with their father, Pat, the founder.

At the head of the family business are brothers Ben and Joe Campioni, who have taken their father’s original grocery store and turned Pat’s Foods IGA into a UP staple. 

Their grandfather began the family’s initial foray into food retail. He owned-and-operated a store that sold “anything from seed to grocery,” Ben Campioni said. 

Campioni’s father didn’t initially follow in his footsteps. While remaining in the grocery sector, he preferred to take his business on the road. “He had a milk route. A pretty successful one, too,” Campioni said.

That ended in 1975 when his father walked into a A&P store. “He was delivering milk to a grocery one day. The guy told him he was putting [the store] up for sale,” Campioni said.

Deciding to purchase the business, his father convinced his mother to help run it. She quickly proved her worth.

“She pointed out that they didn’t have anybody to sell them milk,” Campioni said with a laugh.

Eventually, that first store became five. Campioni and his brother grew up in the business. Both pursued other interests before rejoining it as young adults. They bought the business from their parents 22 years ago. The two have found success with a strong bond and established culture to help them.

“I ran the Calumet store and my brother ran the L’Anse store, and we supervised together. Then, we started to expand,” Campioni said. “We’ve been lucky with good teams and culture. We couldn’t do it without our people.”

Pat’s Foods has been in Calumet since the early 1980s. In 1996, the family built the current location downtown. In 2012, the store was expanded from 25,000 to 36,000 square feet. Campioni said the decision was made initially because the store was “too small in perishables and beverages.”

“But we were small everywhere,” he added. “It was a big move at the time. It paid off, and it’s been good. We’re serving to our customers’ satisfaction.”

Pat’s Foods was able to expand its deli; added a salad bar, a seating area above the deli and 120 frozen and dairy food doors; tripled its produce selection; and put up photo murals celebrating the area and the Campioni family.

Calumet was founded as a mining town, which drew Campioni’s forefathers to the area. The family name was known in the area for the factories his great-grandfather owned. When designing the remodeled store, Campioni said he wanted to celebrate his and the town’s past.

“We have a lot of history in the Calumet area. We wanted to put that around the store, display it for customers. It’s the customers’ history, too. It’s good history.”

Although Campioni embraces the past, he continues to update and modernize his store.

Pat's Foods Campioni

“Every year, we continue to invest in our business. Whether it’s automated tills, saving energy and just trying to stay focused,” he said.

One of the most recent changes occurred in February when Pat’s Foods switched suppliers to SpartanNash, which has proved successful.

“We’ve really been embracing their programs, and we’ve been very happy…we’re still in the honeymoon stages, but it’s re-energized us,” Campioni said. “One thing I can say is that in grocery, change is inevitable. Change is the one thing that’s constant. And the fun part. When you do stuff, [it’s] never boring. If you switch wholesalers, it gives you a new challenge. It’s fun.”

In the Calumet store, Campioni has pulled out his full-service deli in favor of more space for grab-and-go items. He said specialty items and meal solutions have become so integral to the overall business, he wanted to allocate more space for it.

“We’ve seen nothing but growth by pulling the full-service deli case out. You know, a lot of times the full-service deli would close at seven o’ clock at night and we’re closing at 11. The other stuff is always available.”

Many of the retailer’s grab-and-go options are made in-house, in conjunction with SpartanNash’s programs or through the company’s central kitchen – which is inside another Pat’s Foods. 

Pat's Foods Campioni

Campioni said he knows where he wants to take Pat’s Foods next – into the digital space. He is working toward implementing a digital couponing and QR code program for the family’s stores. 

He views moving into the digital space as a way to compete with larger retailers and connect with the next generation of consumers. 

“We’re really pushing forward to launch a big program for our customers, to hit everybody,” he said. “Everyone is used to the paper side. People are still touched when it hits their house, but it’s expensive. 

“Now you have the texting side and Facebook. When you look at young kids, they know how to do everything on a phone. That’s where we need to be at. That’s how to sustain. It’s where our business is going, and we can either follow or lose sales.”

Campioni has met with “a number of providers” about digital marketing but won’t move too quickly.

“It’s exciting, but you’ve got to be patient. Everything has to be right to undertake something like that.”

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