Buying and supporting local businesses just became easier thanks to a new initiative supported by Meijer, the state's largest food retailer, which has decided to display and sell products from 22 Michigan-based companies in 35 local stores.
And DeYoung's Fore Seasons, owned and operated by Hartland couple Mark and Becky DeYoung, is just one of the small, successful companies chosen to be included in the set.
“Luckily, I got into Brighton, Howell, White Lake, Wixom — all the ones that are in our immediate area — so I have a lot of following there,” Becky DeYoung said. “Now I just gotta keep the push going so they keep continuing with the program.”
Two years ago, the Product Center at Michigan State University, where DeYoung is a counselor, had approached Meijer, asking where its Michigan section was since it is a Michigan-based company. Meijer officials listened and agreed to try a program in which, for the next six months to a year, local products will be rotated and displayed in the stores to see what sells on a regular basis — with the possibility of having those products integrated onto a store's main floor.
DeYoung's Fore Seasons began in 1999 when newlyweds Mark and Becky DeYoung came up with the idea of giving a unique spice blend, which Mark DeYoung had created while working as a chef at Oakland County country clubs, as Christmas gifts to family.
“During the dating process, he always cooked for me and my roommate, and we gained like 40 pounds,” Becky DeYoung said, laughing. “He made pork roast one time, and I said what is that flavor?”
Reactions to their Christmas gifts and encouragement from family members prompted the couple to start marketing the special blend, and that helped spur the creation of the family business.
Two children and six years later, in 2005, the couple decided to restart their business, which had taken a backseat to pregnancies and raising babies. After she quit her job as a sales representative with Boar’s Head, DeYoung’s former clients asked her what she would be doing next, and she responded by telling them about her own company.
“In six months, I was in 45 (independant) stores,” DeYoung said. “Just from word of mouth and just 'cause I was the Boar’s Head sales rep in the Detroit area. … They said we’re going to give you a shot, and we’re going to let you prove yourself.”
Now, DeYoung's Fore Seasons, along with 21 other companies, are getting a chance to prove themselves on a larger scale. DeYoung hopes shoppers' support for local businesses will make the Michigan section at Meijer a success.
“If we get people to shop the section, if we get people to go into the stores and ask where the Michigan section is, nine times out of 10, the manager will say, 'I’m tired of hearing people ask for this item — how can we get it?' " she said.
That's exactly what the small local companies are hoping for, according to DeYoung. Although the Hartland Meijer is not yet a location where DeYoung's Fore Seasons can be purchased, she hopes that eventually, with more people interested in supporting local business, that may change.
Selling for less than $5, DeYoung's Fore Seasons comes in two varieties — original and chipotle, both packaged in a resealable pouch — and can also be bought online. DeYoung said she had one customer contact her wanting to order more after she was able to preserve one package of spices for five years.
“She said it still tasted the same and it didn’t really lose its flavor 'cause she put it in her freezer,” DeYoung said. “What’s nice about it is, it picks up all the different flavors, and it tastes differently on everything you put it on.”
DeYoung's Fore Seasons can be found in the Michigan section at several area Meijer locations or online.