While chains gobble up local grocers, Dutch-Way remains resilient

5 min read3,870 views and 140 shares Posted February 5, 2020

The supermarket industry has changed in Lebanon and Lancaster counties in the past year, as family-owned Musser’s Markets were closed and re-opened as Giant supermarkets.

Two of the stores were located in Lancaster County—one at the Buck and one outside Mountville—and one in Lebanon County. Located at 1750 Quentin Road in North Cornwall Township, the Lebanon County store re-opened as Giant in November.

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Although the supermarket industry landscape has changed in the county, small, independent grocers do remain.

Read More: Zweier’s is a new, old south Lebanon community staple

Privately-owned Dutch-Way Farm Market is one of those grocers, with stores in Schaefferstown (2495 Stiegel Pike), Myerstown (649 E. Lincoln Ave.) and Gap (365 Route 41). Each store boasts a restaurant, although the size and menu is varied from one location to the next.

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The entrance to the Dutch-Way restaurant in Myerstown. (Will Trostel)
Customers enjoying lunch at Dutch-Way in Myerstown. (Will Trostel)

“We look to thrive. With about 600 employees, we want to be sure we’re a good employer long-term,” said Jason Bennett, one of Dutch-Way’s owners. He also serves as director of operations and as manager of the Myerstown location.

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Bennet acknowledged that rumors of a potential Dutch-Way acquisition by Giant seem to crop up perennially, but said there was no basis to them.

“There is nothing in the works at this point,” said Bennet. “We’re mainly looking to focus on the future and how we can stay competitive.”

“We’re moving forward, we’re purchasing vehicles and equipment to continue to thrive.”

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One way Dutch-Way continues to thrive is its ongoing commitment to customer service. “We (the owners) shop here. Our wives shop here. And, we want to be good to the people that come through the store,” Bennett stressed.

Customers check out Tuesday during lunch time at the Dutch-Way in Myerstown. (Will Trostel)

“Customer service is not something new to us—it’s something we’ve been doing all along.”

Bennett pointed out that what makes Dutch-Way different than chain grocery stores is its focus on locally-grown or locally-made products and items, including what’s produced in-house.

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“We look for things you can’t get at the chain stores,” he explained. “We also do things a bit differently.”

Perishables such as produce, for example, may be packaged in a smaller quantity if a customer requests it. Bennett said this often happens with large produce items such as cabbage. Cabbage has a large head, and if a customer asks, a head may be cut in half with the other half being placed in the produce area for another possible customer with the same need.

Dutch-Way employees stock fresh produce daily. (Will Trostel)
Some of the colorful produce selection available at Dutch-Way. (Will Trostel)
Grayson, of the produce department, stocks the potato display. (Will Trostel)

Meats are also cut in-house and are not pre-packaged. Bennett pointed out that many larger-chain grocers have a central meat cutting facility and meat is delivered to individual stores pre-packaged.

Kevin Leibich of the meat department stops for a picture while setting up a display at the Dutch-Way in Myerstown. (Will Trostel)
Dutch-Way’s meats are cut in-house and are not pre-packaged. (Will Trostel)

Dutch-Way’s bakeries use a lot of scratch-bake recipes — as do their kitchens, which produce items for both the grocery store and restaurant.

Dutch-Way bakes many of its items from scratch, part of the appeal for both the grocery store and the restaurant. (Will Trostel)

“We produce a large variety of deli salads, soups, heat-and-serve foods such as ham balls with pineapple sauce and heat-and-serve meals (an entrée with sides),” Bennett said. “Our recipes are unique. People have told us they like the taste of our food—both our baked goods and items prepared for the stores by our kitchens.”

Heat-and-serve foods and meals have become increasingly popular. In Myerstown, Bennett said, heat-and-serve business has tripled since 2013.

“People are really busy these days or may not be as interested in cooking,” he said. “They’re looking for convenience, but want to serve something that’s good.”

Guests shopping the dairy aisle. (Will Trostel)

Bennett said Dutch-Way also listens to customer feedback. He explained that there’s a system in place to relay customer comments from each store’s customer service desk to management: “We listen and take those comments to heart. We use them to find out what needs our customers have.”

As a result, Dutch-Way recently added online ordering with curbside pickup. Bennett said the feedback from customers on that amenity has been positive.

Another way in which Dutch-Way seeks to continue thriving as an independent grocer is by training its next generation of leaders. Bennett said the grocer has been very intentional about fostering leadership within the business. “We want to continue to be sustainable,” he said.

Sarah greets customers upon entry to the Dutch-Way restaurant. (Will Trostel)

Dutch-Way began in 1972 as a farmer’s market, according to a 2016 write-up in Best Food and Retail Practices, and eventually grew into a supermarket with a small, diner-style restaurant attached. Owners Rich High, Cliff Snader and Jeff Snader purchased the Gap location in 1994 from the original owner, the late David Z. Martin, and expanded to the other two locations in 2001.

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