Elden’s Fresh Foods

Small, independent ownership and a personal stake in the community
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Dana Merk-Wynne

In Alexandria, Minnesota, Elden’s Fresh Foods has been an independent, family-owned grocer for more than three decades. The familiar phrase, “See you at Elden’s,” has stuck over the store’s 33 years in business as friends and neighbors come to shop where they engage in conversation and catch up with familiar faces. At 50,000 square feet, Elden’s offers a widespread selection with a large emphasis on perishable items — produce, bakery, deli, meat and dairy departments all shine — as well as a full-service floral department with five florists on staff.

Since Elliot Christensen and his brother Dennis Christensen opened the first Elden’s in Austin, Minnesota, in May 1982, the store has held fast to local ownership and a commitment to reinvesting in the community. “We sold the Austin location in 1997 and relocated to Alexandria,” says Elliot, president of Elden’s. “Since the beginning we’ve really been committed to living and loving local. We source as many items as possible from local vendors and purveyors and we support a great deal of community causes.”

Community-minded and committed

Whether it’s a contribution to the construction of a new high school, the area YMCA or a local youth sports league, Elden’s doesn’t hesitate to pay it forward. As the only locally-owned, independent supermarket in town, surrounded by big-box, corporate stores, Elden’s stands out for folks looking to buy and support local business. “Our store’s theme is, ‘live and love local in Alexandria,’” says Elliot.

One of the biggest events Elden’s sponsors is a fundraising concert at the area theater of performing arts. “We hosted a number of events and acts including country western star Billy Dean and other award-winning artists,” says Elliot. “All in all these events raised more than $10,000 for local charities.”

Today, Elden’s remains family owned. Elliot’s son, JR Christensen, is the store director. Due to very seasonal-type business, the store employs 125 year-round employees and up to 200 in the busy summer months.

The buzz around town

Summer is a busy time of year for Elden’s as typical store traffic swells with more tourists in Alexandria and the company also hosts a number of events. This past summer, Elden’s hosted the famous Oscar Mayer Weinermobile at its location. “We were selected as one of 20 locations throughout the country to host the Weinermobile,” says Elliot. “We recruited the Alexandria Area High School choir to lead 300 people in singing the Oscar Mayer jingle song. We served up free hot dogs, chips and soda pop to more than 2,500 people during the event. It was a packed house.”

Elden’s has built a loyal customer following over the years by reaching out through community activism and events. Elden’s is truly where the selection of a big-box store meets the friendly service and support of a small business. “In 2012 we added 22,000 square feet onto the store in a major remodel,” says Elliot. “This remodel included a new floor plan and it really put business over the top once it was completed. Today, our store is very modern with high-end décor.”

Elden’s has upward of 30,000 items, so selection is not a concern. “We have a large natural and organics section and a gluten-free section of the store,” shares Elliot.

With a focus on fresh, Elden’s bakery and deli departments are active and always pumping out new items. “We also do a good amount of catering,” says Elliot. “We do weddings and corporate catering. In fact, 3M has the largest sandpaper manufacturing plant in the country in Alexandria and we work with them to cater some of their corporate events.”

The floral and garden center aspect of Elden’s also stands out. “In the spring, we offer the largest outdoor garden center in town,” says Elliot. “The garden center attracts people from 30 to 50 miles away. In the fall, we’re really known for mums. Starting around Labor Day and running through November, we host one of the largest mum displays in the Midwest.”

The company’s floral department, known as Elden’s Downtown Floral, provides flower and gift delivery to Alexandria, Osakis, Carols, Brandon, Miltona and Nelson, Minnesota. Customers can order online, 24 hours a day and have an arrangement ready for pickup or delivery usually the next business day.

Promoting health and wellness

Beyond superb selection and robust departments, Elden’s is an active participant in local health and wellness promotions and programs. “We have a registered dietician nutritionist on staff,” says Elliot. “From educating about food allergies to healthy recipes to make the most of in-season produce, our dietician, Amanda Heffner, is an active part of our store. She runs our Fresh Fit Club and also teaches a nutrition class at the community college.”

Staying up to date is important for Elden’s when the big-box competitors are just miles away. “We’re constantly upgrading equipment to say relevant,” says Elliot. “We just upgraded our POS system, including fast-lane checkout and we put in microchip readers for more secure credit card transactions.”

For Elden’s, it’s all about going that extra step for the customer, “Because we care,” says Elliot. This attitude and commitment has won the store a spot as the Minnesota Grocer of the Year and other accolades.

Elden’s commitment to reinvesting locally has paid back in countless ways. “We’re more than a grocery store — we’re a community destination,” says Elliot. Under this mantra, Elden’s Fresh Foods builds on 33 years in business with 19 of those years serving Alexandria and surrounding communities with freshly prepared products, wide selection and most of all, a friendly face.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
DW Green Co.
Retail Data Systems