When Fresh Thyme Farmers Market opens its first area location today in Fairview Heights, Illinois, Chief Operating Officer Sage Horner looks to fill what he sees as a void in the Metro East — a modern, year-round, accessible and affordable farmers market.

The Fairview Heights location is the eleventh Fresh Thyme to open in as many months. Stores currently span the Midwest, with 16 more opening their doors in 2015.

Where Fresh Thyme differs from its peers is what Horner sees as its “sweet spot” — a comfortable environment that caters to those interested in natural foods. The layout inverts the typical grocery store, placing the produce department (which Horner aims to make “the best produce department in town”) in the center of the store rather than the front. Surrounding the produce is a premium deli with Fresh Thyme-branded, all-natural slicing meats and cheeses and house-made sausages, house-baked bread, and to-go food offerings, such as make-your-own pizza, a salad and olive bar, and hot sandwiches.

In addition to aisles of premium packaged foods, what really draws patrons are the bulk bins. With everything from steel-cut oats to organic wheat berries to key lime-covered pretzels, customers can buy as little or as much as they want from the 400 items available. The bins also fit into what Horner describes as a commitment to sustainability – any servingware available in the store is compostable as well.

Liquids are also available in bulk. Olive oil and vinegar are perhaps to be expected, but Fresh Thyme also offers bulk honey, agave, liquid aminos and maple syrup. Grind your own nut butters and watch as staff members make fresh green juice (a mix of kale, spinach, cucumber, parsley, apple and lemon) behind the juice counter.

Another point of pride for Horner is the store's extensive variety of gluten-free foods – 1,500 items, to be exact, each labeled with a special tag. Fresh Thyme also boasts more than 8,200 vitamin, supplement, and body care items, 300 of those with the in-store label. The number of store-branded items is growing, and customers can expect to see many more in the coming months.

Craft beer, including a build-your-own six pack with local and in-demand brews, and a small yet carefully curated wine selection, round out the Fresh Thyme experience.

“Our goal is to be much more focused on the family that wants a more comfortable, casual, warm environment,” says Horner. “We're trying hard to be the place that the conventional family can come and have fun.”

Fresh Thyme is now open off Route 159 in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Hours are 7am to 10pm daily. Initial grand opening specials continue through January 21.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, 6569 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights, Illinois, 618.230.7000, freshthyme.com

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled Sage Horner's name. We regret the error.


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