Orange Street Food Farm replacing Western Family brand as grocery competition evolves

Austin Hughes, floor manager at the Orange Street Food Farm, said the switch away from Western Family will take shape over the coming weeks as crews switch out the inventory, replacing the Western Family brand with Food Club and other products. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Regular shoppers at the Orange Street Food Farm will see the label on store products change over the coming weeks as the grocer forgoes the Western Family brand for more recognizable products, and moves to compete with larger chains.

Austin Hughes, floor manager at the Food Farm, said the changes will take shape over the coming weeks as crews switch out the inventory.

“Western Family is a name that’s been around forever, but at the same time, they haven’t updated their products, they haven’t updated their packaging, and pretty much anything else about the way they do business,” Hughes said. “The switch over to Food Club is an attempt to force that brand recognition and make it a little more accessible instead of a brand name people gloss over all the time.”

For years, shoppers have associated the Western Family brand to a wide range or products, from medicines to food and non-food items.

After the change, Hughes said, medicines will carry the Top Care brand and non-food items will switch over to Simply Done. Food Club will replace the Western Family brand in food-related items.

“It lets us provide a higher-quality product without increasing prices at all,” said Hughes. “It’s good for our customers because, ultimately, we’re getting the same variety of products while opening up to even more brands and possibilities. It’s taking away from one major company and spreading it out a little bit among the smaller ones.”

Hughes said the switch away from Western Family will likely take place at other local grocers, including the Pattee Creek Market and Fresh Market, though that couldn’t be confirmed.

The Food Farm works through Associated Food Stores in a buyer’s group that gives it more say about the products it places. That gives the local grocer more autonomy when it comes to the products it brings in and the prices it sets, Hughes said.

“It’s through that buying power that we’re able to keep up with nationwide conglomerates like Albertsons and Walmart,” said Hughes. “Walmart represents a major chunk of grocery sales in Missoula, so the big thing we fight against is constantly switching out products and constantly rotating things through.”

As in other cities, the grocery business in Missoula has evolved over the past few years. Albertsons and Safeway completed their merger in 2015, leading Ron Ramsbacher and Craig Holtet to purchase the old Safeway stores and reinvent them as Missoula Fresh Market.

The two also acquired the Orange Street Food Farm the year before from Robert Korman and John Lubbers. Since then, Lucky’s Market and Cash & Carry have both opened in Missoula, and other existing stores have remodeled and introduced new items to compete for customers, whose buying habits continue to change.

But the Food Farm operates largely as a neighborhood grocery store and has earned a dedicated clientele, many of whom have already noticed the changing of brands. Despite the addition of new stores in Missoula, Hughes said, the Food Farm has held its ground.

“Missoula is a shopping community and any time there’s a new shop to look at or place to be, they’ll check it out,” he said. “But the thing about it is consistency. Orange Street has been here for as long as we’ve been here and we’re still doing what we do and folks still appreciate and support us.

“As bright and shiny places pop up, understanding there’s still places to get your staple products without the giant markup is core and essential.”