Drivers along Westnedge Ave just saw the first sign of a new grocery store coming to Portage. Fresh Thyme Farmers Market is coming to the Southland Mall.

Fresh Thyme was founded in 2012 and added locations in metro Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. The Portage location will be the first in Southwest Michigan. The chain also has a footprint in South Bend, Indiana.

The grocer defines itself as a hybrid of Whole Foods, due to its upscale nature and Trader Joe's thanks to a specialty line of items. MLive, which reported on the chain when the Grand Rapids location opened, noted that Meijer is a major investor in the company.

Fresh Time's Vice President of Operations described some of the aspects of the chain to the Lansing State Journal:

30 percent of Fresh Thyme's business is produce. They take extra care in the way they handle the produce. They even squeeze their own juices in the stores.

Tags throughout the market that say local indicate those items supplied by local vendors. They carry more than 400 Michigan products. And Bernier says that's what they're really all about at the end of the day.

"You can come into this store specifically and we have a local gentleman we're buying grain from and you can grind your own rolled oats, right here," Bernier said.

The machine is called "the grainery" and it produces fresh milled oats.

We want to be part of not just Michigan, we want to be part of the community that we have our stores in," Bernier said. "We take extra time to go out and build these relationships with our local vendors."

The company is redeveloping a portion of the Southland Mall to accommodate the new store. The Portage Planning Commission approved the construction in April. Fresh Thyme will join Earth Fare and Trader Joe's in the Kalamazoo area's upscale grocery category.