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Rouses Markets’ Milestone Rooted In Louisiana Produce

Rouses Markets produce

Last updated on March 19th, 2024 at 05:05 pm

The Shelby Report of the Southeast recently caught up with Rouses Markets CEO Donny Rouse to discuss the 100th anniversary of City Produce and all things Rouses as the Louisiana-based grocer gears up for a big 2024. City Produce, whose centennial runs through May 2024, is the first company that the Rouses family started after arriving in America from Sardinia.

Donny Rouse

100 Years of City Produce kicked off in May 2023, and continues this year. How are you recognizing and celebrating the centennial?

“It’s quite a milestone. Rouses Market wouldn’t be here without City Produce. We really wanted to honor that.

“We created City Produce branding using the logo on the side panel my great-grandfather’s truck as inspiration. That specially designed branding is on signage throughout our produce department and in our advertising. Our register monitors and produce bags sport the 100th Anniversary logo. We even brought the old City Produce truck to our store opening in Houma in August. 

“We have always featured the farmers we work with in our advertising and in our stores because we want our customers to know exactly where their food comes from. Sharing where food is grown, caught and made has been so much of our story through 64 years of business. Now with the centennial, we’ve been talking as much about our own roots in local produce as the farmers we work with. 

“We’ve definitely had long-standing relationships with the farmers, and as they have transitioned from family member to family member, but there are a few of them that we’ve done business with since our first store.

“Of course, we did a special edition of the Rouses Magazine celebrating 100 Years of City Produce, and that got everyone talking about spring onions, which locals called shallots. We heard from readers whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents grew shallots in South Louisiana and sold them to City Produce. 

“We don’t want the celebration to stop in April. We created a wall history with old photos and ads from City Produce, Ciro’s, which was our first store, and Rouses. It really tells our story. We put it up in our Houma store last summer, and we are using it in décor in all of our new stores. You’ll see it in our new stores in North Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana, and Picayune and Biloxi, Mississippi, and in future stores. 

“The new Baton Rouge store grand opening was held Jan. 11. The Picayune, Mississippi, store – which will be a new market for Rouses – is planned to open in early summer. 

“We are always looking at other markets in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, because that’s where the base is. We don’t have anything to announce further at this time for locations.”

Is the drive-thru concept you introduced at the new Houma store something you plan to move forward with in other locations?

“It’s doing well for us, and we will add that to other markets for newer stores when we see that it’s going to lay out correctly on the site plan. We have a new store we’re going to build in Slidell, but it will be the same as the Houma store and does have room on that site to do a drive-thru as well. We’re not going to start construction on that until later this year.”

With City Produce, you’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the past. Looking forward, what are your plans for the future? 

“We have a busy 2024 planned. We just opened two stores and we have two new stores opening, extensive remodeling and construction projects.

“We’re building two different stores right now. One’s about 55,000 square feet; the other one’s about 45,000 square feet. We feel pretty good today about how the new store is laid out for our customers as far as where departments are and what’s going on in there. That’s going to change probably in a couple of years. 

“We’ll learn, we’ll add some new things and some things may come out. We’re always looking to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can and offer everything that we need to offer for our shoppers. We’re not going to be stuck in one format for the next 10-15 years building stores. We will change them as we see fit.

“As part of our commitment to progress, we’re becoming more data driven. We’re getting more strategic with space management and planning techniques to optimize our retail spaces and improve the overall shopping experience. 

“We’re adding more ways to save and new ways to reward our loyal customers. We’re getting close to finalizing a project to where we can really understand who our customer is and who’s buying what and where they’re buying it and how often. 

“We currently use cell phone data to see where our customers are coming from, how long they’re in our stores, where they’re going, where they were before us, where they’re going after us. We don’t have a loyalty card, but we are working with different technology so we can grab that data and understand better so we can market to the individuals.

“Fresh and Grocery will continue to focus on product innovation and meeting customer preference with new private label SKUs and regular introductions of new products and limited-time offers. 

“Our team is equally focused on the in-store and online experience. We pride ourselves on our customer service, and it’s crucial to me that customers who want to save time get the same customer service expectation, even in the digital space. We want a seamless and customer-centric approach across all touchpoints. 

“My grandfather was always offering the customer the best quality at the best price. When he was farming and shipping produce, and even when he had his first store, he wanted the best quality he could get and sell it at the best price. 

“I grew up learning customer service and understanding customer service. It’s just welcoming the customer to Rouses, bagging their groceries, helping the customers out with their groceries. If they’re asking for an item, walking them down through the store and bringing them to those items and just going above and beyond. 

“And the customer is always right. We do not want to tell the customer ‘no.’ We need to find a way to make sure that we can satisfy that customer before they walk out the door.”

Rouses Markets has consistently been voted the best grocery store on the Gulf Coast in various polls, and national media outlets like Epicurious have recognized it as one of the best grocery stores in the country.

“This is a very unique culture. I always say, ‘You’re either local, or you’re not,’ which goes beyond just being born here; it means you get it, or you don’t; you’re either a part it, or you’re not. It’s about understanding, embracing and being an integral part of the community.

“We grew up here. We live here; we eat here. We know what our customers like to eat. We know what our employees like to eat. We have access to farmers and to fishermen and to the local grocery manufacturers just because we’ve been here forever, so we have those relationships. 

“We’re not coming from out of state trying to figure out a market and figure out where to buy what the customers want. We know what our customers want to buy. It’s just a natural fit and it’s easy to understand. We’re not trying to figure it out.

“We have an unparalleled understanding. We know crawfish, Mardi Gras, snowballs and football are seasons; that there are Cajun and Creole versions of gumbo and jambalaya; and fried seafood is a Friday must on the hotline during Lent. 

“This cultural connection is why people want to shop at Rouses Markets, along with our quality, variety and value, and it’s also why they choose to work here. 

“We take pride in being one of the largest privately held employers on the Gulf Coast, with 7,000 employees, creating job opportunities and contributing to the growth of our community as we expand.

“I’m very proud of our team members, those that have been with us for a long time and then the newer team members who are coming as their first job or their second careers and trusting in Rouses for their careers and to support their families. And our suppliers that have been with us for many, many years. Just the trust that we have between the suppliers and our team members, knowing that Rouses is the place to sell your products or to come work on the Gulf Coast. We do our best to treat everyone right, treat everyone fairly. That way, everyone can be successful and provide for their families.”

Rouses magazine celebrates the culture of the Gulf Coast. Does having such strong family roots in the region and working to preserve the culture contribute to the success of Rouses Markets?

“Absolutely. Every time you pick up one of our magazines, you feel that culture, you feel the family. You can almost taste the food as you’re looking through the pictures and reading the recipes. 

“Our customers that are reading that magazine, it relates to them. They understand the stories, they understand the recipes and the food and it’s part of everyone here on the coast.”

Read more independent store news from The Shelby Report.

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Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
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