February 2010: Retailing’s Unsung Heroes: Mana Foods From The Journal of Commerce, February 2010 edition

"And so it was during a vacation to Hawaii last month that my wife and I found ourselves in the small Maui town of Pa’ia, a few miles south of Kahului, where we happened upon the Mana Foods Market. Having read the name in a guidebook, in we went. At the end of more than an hour, we had purchased a few items, but had a great time just the same wanderingthe aisles. In fact, I found the store so interesting and the variety of items so remarkable that I called the store a few days later to see if they would speak with me about how they managed to get so much stuff into so little space and how they managed the logistics.

To my delight, Sunette Fenn, one of Mana Foods’ founders, was generous enough to take 30 or 40 minutes of her time to speak with me about the business, especially the logistics. Just for some perspective: The Mana Foods store is about 6,500 square feet, and the company has an order book of some 30,000 items that appear on the shelves. According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average size of a grocery store in America was 46,755 square feet in 2008 and stocked approximately 47,000 items. It’s worth noting Hawaii is the most isolated island chain in the world; Maui’s population was 143,574 in 2008, and Pa’ia is very small. So how does Mana Foods do it? The specifics — no direct imports, a large number of distributor suppliers, dedicated staff, and constant attention to customer wants and needs — are less important than the fact it does it and has been doing it every day, every week, every month, for more than 25 years; and to be sure, without the awareness of virtually all of their customers — except, of course, for the random visit of a geek from the mainland. Thanks, Sunette, I appreciate your time and the Mana Foods story. Your copy of this column will be on its (electronic) way to you soon." JOC Barry Horowitz is the principal at CMS Consulting Services. He can be contacted at 503-208-2232, or at barryh@cms-cs.com.