The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is well known for its logging industry, proximity to three of the Great Lakes, quality of sites for skiing and especially for the down-to-earth nature of its residents, commonly referred to as “Yoopers.” The Yoopers share a strong regional identity – primarily due to the physical separation from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula – and as a result, tend to take care of each other. In fact, this value for the local community is one of the main characteristics that local chain Pat’s Foods works to demonstrate every day through its product offering and services.

Pat’s Foods is in its fourth generation of Campioni family ownership and operation, and has been dedicated to quality service from the start. Family patriarch Guido Campioni came to the Upper Peninsula from Italy and established a small mom-and-pop store, and the operation has grown from there, while remaining in the family. His great-grandsons Joe and Ben Campioni are now the company’s co-owners, and they have five grocery stores throughout the Upper Peninsula, as well as one hardware store and a car wash. This past summer, the company also added a convenience store to its group.

Joe Campioni stresses that what remains consistent at all of its locations is the company’s dedication to service as well as meeting the needs of its customers.

“We take care of our customers – that is always No. 1,” he says. “We are known for our quality, cleanliness and ability to change with the times. We are very community-oriented, and all of this together helps us to be fairly aggressive in the market. We can never beat Walmart, but we can out-promote them at times – they can’t always react the way we do.”

‘Quality is Always There’

Campioni notes that Walmart and other big-box retailers that offer groceries definitely make the market more competitive, but there is still a place for the small, independent grocer. He and his brother have been in the grocery business all their lives – they bought the company from their parents about six years ago – so they understand what their customers want and what works in their market.

“Customer service is a major thing for us,” Campioni says. “We still bag customers’ groceries and carry them out to their cars, we fill special orders and all of our stores have full-service meat shops. Those mass merchandisers don’t offer anything like that.”

This also is where the quality of Pat’s Foods’ offering comes into play. The stores’ meat shops only sell certified Angus beef, which is “the highest quality on the market today,” Campioni says. The stores also sell 100 percent natural, antibiotic-free chicken, its own line of Grandpa Pat’s sausage and ham, its Grandma Jan’s line of deli salads and fresh produce.

“We work with Russ Davis Wholesale to get our produce, and the quality is always there,” Campioni says. “Quality is just something that we’ve always worked on.

“We have programs in place to ensure quality and we stick with them,” he adds. “My brother and I are in the stores everyday, so that helps with quality, too. We are there to see everything – we’re not just leading from an office.”

Focus on Fresh

Campioni notes that more consumers are adopting special diets, so natural and gluten-free items are becoming more popular, and Pat’s Food is responding. “We’re always trying to grow our space in those categories,” he notes. This ability to respond quickly with new product offerings, he stresses, is part of the company’s overall focus on service, as well as something in which the mass merchandisers do not particularly excel.

“We work with our wholesalers to bring to market what our customers need and want, and we can do that relatively quickly,” Campioni says. “Additionally, so much of what we offer is fresh – Walmart may offer produce, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and the quality isn’t always there.

“We only offer fresh meat and produce, so if a consumer wants a higher-quality market, they know they can come to us.”

Hometown Pride

Along with only offering fresh meat and produce, Pat’s Foods remains conscious of price, so it offers “a lot of coupon books and several two-day sales” throughout the year, according to Campioni. The company also markets itself via television and radio ads, remotes and billboards, which are changed every month to reflect each store’s specials.

“We do a good job of getting our name out and getting our message across,” he stresses.

Pat’s Foods also keeps its stores updated, and chooses about one store each year to be remodeled. The company just finished fixing up its location in Hancock, Mich., with new freezers, coolers and cases. “It was a complete overhaul of the store,” Campioni notes. “We don’t want the stores to get outdated and we want to keep them looking nice.”

The company added a convenience store to its enterprise over the summer, and although Joe Campioni and his brother always keep their eyes open for new locations and other opportunities, the venture has to be “just right” before they will expand.

Instead, Pat’s Foods is more focused on maintaining its dedication to quality products, customer service and responding to customers’ needs because that is what helps it remain competitive as a small, independent grocery chain.

“Our business has been able to withstand the test of time, and I’m very proud of that,” Campioni says. “The fact that a hometown grocery can still stand in today’s world and can withstand the competition from mass merchandisers is great – it shows how strong we are.”