Talking to a General Manager at a Salvage Grocery Store in Texas

Photo credit: Town Talk Foods.

Jeremy Wortsman is a General Manager for Town Talk Foods, a food liquidator in Fort Worth, Texas.

Can you tell me about what Town Talk does and what community you are serving?

We are a salvage grocer. What that means is basically we have the same variety of what you find in a supermarket. If you can find it there you can find it here. We may not have everything that is on your shopping list in one trip, but we’re going to have 90 percent of your list and we’re going to have it at prices that are much better than traditional grocery stores.

The products that we buy are either overruns, discontinued, or close dates; even recipe changes or packaging changes. We basically pick up the foods that vendors can’t sell through conventional channels.

Very cool. What factors into the items you decide to purchase to sell?

Demand is a big thing. We want to make sure we have a product that is wanted, but we also have contracts with distributors or retailers where we buy whatever they have for us. The U.S. wastes way too much food every single year, so we like to be part of the solution. We will buy it if it’s wholesome, healthy and nutritious and it if it’s something our customers can use, and that’s the main criteria that we have, it’s something we can provide to the community.

How have your customers changed over the years?

We started with the customer who was just trying to make ends meet and we still have a lot of those customers because of our prices, and because of the type of food that we have. We have people come in where we are really the only way they can feed their family a good, nutritious meal at an affordable price.

That’s still our core customer, but we’ve also seen a big increase in our overall traffic of bargain hunters. It’s almost a treasure hunt or a game to some people to see what the best deal they can find is. The same kind of people who have a lot of fun going to garage sales are the same people who will have a blast at Town Talk, because they can come in and find the high-end organic products, or plant-based nutritional items that are expensive at a traditional grocery store or an all-natural food store. You can get those items for a fraction of the cost here.

Yeah, when I’ve gone I’ve noticed there are a lot of items I would only find at really high-end grocery stores.

Yeah, we do have a lot of items that you would only find at your all-natural food stores. Like organic food. You might pay $5 a pound for strawberries if you are looking for the good organic stuff at an all-natural food store. We’ll get the same one-pound organic package that would normally be selling for $5 and we’ll sell it for 99 cents.

How do you determine those prices? Is it based on the price you buy it for or are there other factors that go into the sale price?

There are a few factors. To be honest, it can be somewhat arbitrary. The key determination we use is history, as in “what have we historically sold that product for?” We have a general range. Strawberries we typically sell around .79 to .99 cents. What we add to or take away from that price is going to be freshness. If an item is past date, or we have produce that needs to be consumed or frozen same-day, then we are typically not going to charge as much for that item. We’ll lower the price and get it sold because there is not as much demand. If it is fresh and really good stuff then we might sell it for more.

The quantity is also another factor. Because of the nature of our business, sometimes I will have an entire truckload of a product to sell. For example, flowers. We’ve had multiple truckloads of flowers in the last six weeks. So my rose bouquets that normally I would sell for $3.59, I’ve been selling them on some occasions for $2 a bouquet. That’s just because I have multiple truckloads that I need to get rid of larger quantities, faster.

I’ve noticed that when I’ve visited Town Talk the staff is so friendly, and the customers are so friendly compared to a traditional grocery store. What do you think contributes to this community feel?

That is something we really strive to create. From the hiring process to how we manage and market the store. Number one, we hire the right people who truly care about serving their community. Doing what we do puts us in a great mood because we are providing such a service to the community. We do buy into and believe that we are helping people and we are fully committed to diversity. We live our set of core values and it’s just fun. It’s fun and we enjoy it and it’s infectious to our customers. They see how much fun we have and that we enjoy doing what we do and it makes a great experience. It’s fun place to be. Our employees are also our customers!

What suggestions do you have for Billfold readers who are trying to make the most of their grocery budget?

I would say have an open mind. I see a lot of my customers come in and shop and make their menu based on what we have. You can’t find everything on your grocery list when you come here, like you may not find eggs every time, but you’re going to find stuff to make a meal.

You should also have an open mind when it comes to best-by dating. A lot of people don’t realize that the dating that is on food labels it not a government mandate and it’s nothing that is regulated. It’s just an arbitrary date that’s thrown out there. There is plenty of research that is done on the subject finding that the manufacturer will put a date on an item and it’s their best guess on when an item is at it’s most fresh. So it kind of behooves the food industry to have a product “expire” in April when it may have a perfectly fine taste for several months past that date. The manufacturer wants to be safe and do it in April because they are worried that if somebody buys it in September and it’s not as good the customer probably won’t buy their product anymore. Understand that the dating is kind of a game that the manufacturers play and there is perfectly wholesome and edible food way beyond that point.

Finally, like us on Facebook for the latest items and news, and when you come in ask for a manager or our owner to answer questions or give pointers to new shoppers. We LOVE new shoppers!

What’s next for Town Talk?

We are opening a second location in Weatherford (40 minutes away). It’s most likely going to be opening in June. That is our next adventure but we would love for it to be something that we have the demand and the supply chain to continue to grow and serve more communities.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Meg Renninger is an entrepreneur in Fort Worth, Texas. She recently spent $14 at Town Talk and bought a whole organic chicken, a case of fancy Icelandic yogurt, organic olive oil, a flower bouquet, and a 16 oz jar of capers.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Food Series.

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