Dwight Richmond is the buyer that manufacturers dream about. He is an active partner that builds brands instead of beating up on price.

“I like to connect with the small producers and learn their aspirations,” says Richmond, 50, director of center store for Town & Country Markets, operator of six high-volume stores in Washington state. “We are all on a food journey—the manufacturers, the retailers, and the consumer. My goal is to help people navigate that journey.”

Richmond has pursued that in varying retail positions with Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Earth Fare, and Dean & Deluca. He has worked in distribution with KeHE and Cavallero Specialty Foods and as a broker with CA Fortune.

“My first specialty food job was at Dean & Deluca,” recalls Richmond. “My supervisor said that I had two options to be successful in the business—operations or purchasing. I chose purchasing.”

From 2002 to 2007, Richmond worked for KeHE as the category manager for Giant Eagle Markets, now a 490-store chain. He managed a file of 11,000 SKUs and was instrumental in the creation of the product selection at the 100,000-square-foot Market District stores.

During his time at Whole Foods, from 2009 to 2015, Richmond served as the grocery buyer in the Pacific Northwest region and then as global grocery purchasing coordinator at corporate headquarters in Austin. There, he refined his individualistic buying philosophy.

“My approach was to ask, ‘What can we do for each other?’” says Richmond. “I was in a position where I could make a significant difference for these companies, to take their business to a different level.

“l help companies mentor themselves. The best advice always comes from within. Sometimes these people just need a coach to bring that out. I always want the companies to be as proud of me as a partner as I am of them.”

An example is American Tuna, a seafood company formed in 2005 by six pole & line fishing families in San Diego. Richmond believed in the mission of the company and the quality of its products but was challenged to bring retail down to an affordable price. With encouragement from Richmond, the firm was able to create Deckhand Cat Food from its manufacturing waste, upcycling to decrease the cost. American Tuna and Deckhand both continue to be staples at Whole Foods.

Richmond has helped around 200 companies achieve their dreams, including Lotus Foods, Mocktails, Xinca Foods, Lily’s Sweets, Beyond Good, Siete Family Foods, and Big Picture Foods. Plus, hundreds of other brands that he has brought onto the shelves of Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and other leading retailers are thriving.

He believes that Whole Foods and its philosophy gave birth to regenerative agriculture. Richmond has also been a fierce advocate for organizations promoting authenticity and quality, such as the Specialty Food Association and the Non-GMO Project.

When asked why he has mostly worked for large retailers instead of specialty food stores, Richmond says, “Specialty food is the best way to change the way American consumers eat. It is always fulfilling to align volume with values. You can make more impact on a big stage.”