As third-generation retailers, Marc and Matt Jonna know all about running a successful off-premise business. Their Plum Market concept—an upscale grocer meets boutique wine and spirits shop—is thriving with four locations in Michigan and plans for expansion into Florida, California, and Washington, D.C., in addition to sister food service operations throughout the Midwest. The brothers launched Plum Market 16 years ago to continue the family legacy of running service-oriented retail stores, and their hard work has left a lasting impression in The Wolverine State.
“To us, marketing is a way to get out and attract people who may be looking for something different, like we’re doing,” says Marc, Plum Market’s co-founder and president. “A sauce that becomes delicious is not due to one ingredient, but all the ingredients put together to create a unique flavor, and that’s what marketing is. It’s providing service to guests and figuring out what they want. Marketing is really important to us to attract new clients.”
For their dedication to embracing technology-driven marketing strategies to broaden the appeal of their stores, Marc and Matt Jonna, 2010 Market Watch Leaders, earn the 2022 “Best Marketing Award.”
At Plum Market, marketing takes many forms. The Jonna brothers focus on digital platforms and their store-based loyalty program, along with hosting tastings, educational seminars, and events. The stores aim to attract educated consumers who love food and wine across all price points. Marc, who oversees the company’s wine, spirits, and beer departments, notes that Plum Market has become a destination in Michigan due in part to the company’s ongoing commitment to marketing and consumer outreach.
“When you’re a good marketer and you know who you are, and you can stay within your core business and mission, you can do all the things we’re doing,” Marc says. “We’re very diverse. I don’t think there’s many people in the country like us.” Matt, who serves as Plum Market’s co-founder and CEO, agrees, adding that business is booming. “We’ve evolved a lot in the last 15 years,” Matt says, noting that the company now spans several large-format, full-service grocery stores along with smaller stores in airports and food service cafeteria operations. “Marketing is critical to us. We’re always trying to get new guests in the door and we’re always evolving.”
Marc and Matt have always prioritized customer service and taking care of guests at the highest level. They learned this mentality from their father, Ed Jonna, a 1984 Market Watch Leader and the 1995 “Retailer of the Year,” who created the successful wine and gourmet food store Merchant of Vino, which was ultimately acquired by Whole Foods.
“When we started Plum Market, we really wanted to create an environment in the grocery store arena where the health conscious can meet the foodies,” Marc explains, adding that he and his brother opened a grocery store so they could sell more wine, spirits, and beer, as they believe the grocery business attracts more frequent shoppers, who come in for produce and meat and add beverage purchases as an incremental sale. “You’re not just getting incredible wine selections and gourmet foods here,” Marc notes. “You’re getting natural products that are organic and often locally grown. No department in the store is an afterthought; every department is a destination.”
Plum Market uses targeted communications through its shopper loyalty program as a primary marketing tool. Guests can create an account for the program by signing up with their email, and they can also access it through a Plum Market mobile app. Registered users in the loyalty program receive coupons, rewards, and cash back offers, and if they provide information on their shopping preferences for wine, spirits, and beer, they can also be alerted to new product arrivals that might interest them, either via email or text message.
“We’re constantly investing in technology to reward our guests and give them information the way they want it, especially for new products,” Marc says. “We have a great loyalty program and it’s really important to us. We’re spending less on traditional advertising and more on our loyalty program, social media, and events.” He adds that word of mouth from customers sharing their shopping experiences with friends has also been critical. “If you’re really good at something, people spread the word for you,” Marc notes.
Plum Market hosts many wine events throughout the year, supported by master sommelier Madeline Triffon, who has earned the nickname “the first lady of wine,” as she was the first American woman to pass the master sommelier exam. Triffon now works for Plum Market as the company’s director of events, hosting in-person and virtual wine events and wine education seminars. “Our wine events are a great way to get people away from drinking only their norm,” Marc says. “Madeline is great at creating events that educate the average consumer and give advanced drinkers an opportunity to learn about the industry. We have high-quality wine individuals within our company because we take the category seriously. When you walk in, you’ve got people on the floor who live, eat, and drink this industry.”
Beyond the loyalty program and mobile app, technology also comes into play for Plum Market’s social media efforts and its store-pickup and delivery purchases, services that gained major traction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Plum Market is active on Facebook and Instagram, enabling it to reach a wide swath of consumers. Additionally, Michigan allows for pickup and delivery of wine, spirits, and beer. “It’s a bigger business in our city stores,” Marc says, adding that Plum Market thrives on balancing pickup and delivery with an exceptional in-store experience. “I love modern technology because it makes selling outside of our four walls a lot quicker, and people love that.”
Wine is Plum Market’s primary beverage mover, comprising 65% of total drinks sales, followed by spirits at 25% and beer at 10%. The grocer’s beverage department is positioned near the front of the store to benefit from maximum consumer traffic. Shoppers enter the building into the produce department and wine, spirits, and beer follow immediately after. Once they’ve navigated through drinks, Plum Market guests can head to the meat and seafood area of the store and the packaged grocery section. In all, Plum Market locations stock roughly 30,000 SKUs, and about 10% of that total comes from beverage alcohol. The stores generally have about 1,500 wine SKUs, 1,000 spirits SKUs, and 500 SKUs of beer, seltzer, and RTDs
“If you look at the grocery sector, we’re different,” Marc explains. “We’re like a fine wine, beer, and spirits shop inside a grocery store. I learned at a young age that Europeans live a better lifestyle and I’ve always thought my family has done an incredible job of going from a fine wine shop to a gourmet fine wine shop to a grocery store with a European mentality for wine. We offer a smaller, curated selection at the right price points, with incredible service in an inclusive atmosphere. Our stores are very clean and well stocked, and the items we source in every department have a lot of thought behind them.”
Marc says that European wines, especially white Burgundies, Bordeaux, and Italian labels, are garnering interest now, but he also notes that popular domestic offerings continue to excel. Plum Market’s top-selling wines include La Marca Prosecco ($14 a 750-ml.), Meiomi Pinot Noir ($18), White Haven Sauvignon Blanc ($16), Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay ($20), Veuve Clicquot Brut ($60), and Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages Burgundy ($13).
In spirits, Marc says whiskies and Tequila continue to take share from vodka, and he adds that gin has gained ground over the last couple years with consumers focused on at-home mixology. Among Plum Market’s top-selling spirits, Tito’s vodka ($20 a 750-ml.), Bulleit Bourbon ($30), Casamigos Blanco Tequila ($51), and Aperol aperitif ($25) do well. Meanwhile for beer, Marc sees continued success with local craft labels, though he also notes a rise in non-alcoholic brews, as well as seltzers, ready-to-drink offerings, and hard kombucha. Top-selling beers and RTDs at Plum Market include the Lagunitas non-alcoholic sparkling water Hoppy Refresher ($5 a 4-pack of bottles), Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery’s Hopslam ale ($18 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans), Stella Artois ($10 a 6-pack), White Claw hard seltzers ($20 a 12-pack), and High Noon hard seltzers ($15 an 8-pack).
The Jonna brothers avoid private label offerings, focusing instead on building existing brands. “The reason we exist is to be an advocate for the great brands of the world,” Marc says. “We want consumers to know the history, the passion, and the hard work it takes to create a great wine, and we don’t want to put our name on it. We want them to know where it came from. We give people loyalty and brand integrity. A lot of the competition doesn’t believe in brands like we do.”
Plum Market also believes in supporting its local communities. Marc says the company is dedicated to giving back through charitable donations and events. “When you’re a neighborhood market and part of the community, you have to give back,” he adds, noting that the company prefers to focus on local charities over national organizations. “We want to keep our money within the state so people can see and feel the difference.”
While retail is a primary focus for Plum Market, the Jonnas have branched out beyond traditional off-premise stores and into food service and on-premise businesses too. The brothers operate Plum Market Kitchen ventures in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas that offer both packaged foods and fresh food options. The market kitchens are placed in a variety of locales, from Butler University in Indianapolis and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to the Detroit Metro Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In addition, Plum Market is the official food provider for the Detroit Pistons basketball team at their Performance Center training facility, and the company operates a Plum Market Food Service arm that has cafeteria services in 14 schools and business centers around Michigan.
“We started Plum Market Kitchen to take over building cafeterias and that led to an opportunity in airports,” Marc says, adding that the airport sector has been identified as a key growth channel going forward and deals are already underway in 10 to 15 more airports nationwide. The Plum Market Kitchen in Detroit’s airport became the top food revenue earner inside the airport within six months of its opening. Marc adds that the food service side of Plum Market doesn’t require as much marketing and advertising support as the retail grocery stores, and Matt notes that it’s an exciting and growing sector of the company. “The airports are a unique niche,” Matt says, adding that the operations in Detroit and Dallas both have full on-premise bars, too, and the venues focus on locally made spirits, wine, and beer offerings.
Plum Market also has plans for three new retail units, with the first set to open in Aventura, Florida this fall, and additional locations being built in Hollywood, California, and Washington, D.C. To support the brand’s entry into new states, Marc says the company will do a bigger marketing and advertising push in its new locales to raise awareness. “We’re really excited about the new stores,” Matt adds.
Eventually, the brothers hope to operate a handful of stores in each market where they do business. “We’d like to eventually cluster markets with two or three stores,” Marc explains, adding that the company is also working to streamline its online ordering process to make it easier and more cost-efficient for consumers to order wine, spirits, and beer, as well as food. “People come to our stores because they want something different. People love the service, selection, and price in our beverage department and they identify us as an incredible space to buy wine, beer, and spirits, even though we don’t have the largest selection in town. We’re really excited about what we’re doing.”