Natural Foods Merchandiser
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Essential oils are popping. How can retailers capture more sales?

Three experts offer up practical ideas for how retailers can capitalize on essential oils' popularity through demos, cross-merchandising and more.

In the past few years, essential oils have emerged as an explosive category, giving independent natural products retailers an excellent opportunity to boost HABA sales. These potent oils have a broad range of uses including body care, home care and wellness. “This is not a fly-by-night trend,” says Michelle Lobo, national vice president of nutrition and body care at Presence Marketing. “This is a global trend, and researchers say we are going to continue to see growth through 2024.” Here are nine ways to capitalize on consumers’ intrigue and cultivate more essential oil purchases.

Make shopping experiential. It’s important to have testers that customers can open, touch, feel and smell. Diffusers are another powerful way to sell essential oils. Having one plugged in and emitting aroma gives customers an understanding of how essential oils can function in their homes. It’s also great to showcase premixed, ready-to-go room sprays and body sprays to get across the health and other benefits of essential oils.

Know oil attributes. It’s crucial to have at least one staff member who is highly educated about essential oils. It should be someone who can sell and also knows all the most recent information about essential oils’ various properties, such as antiviral or antibacterial, which really resonate with customers. Brands put out some very helpful and educational point-of-sale information, such as wheels that explain the attributes of specific oils, which staff can use.

Stock accessories. Carrier oils have always been very popular for use with essential oils, so stock those as well. Consider selling spray bottles and other tools, such as necklaces that hold a few drops of essential oil, little diffusers for your car and natural wall plug-ins that diffuse essential oils. It’s also good to offer grab-and-go brochures for customers to take home and learn more.

—Michelle Lobo, national vice president of nutrition and body care, Presence Marketing in Boulder, Colorado

 

Offer a range of options. Stock good-quality oils, know the difference between various lines and oils, and understand why the prices are what they are—there is a difference. We feature the Veriditas line in our stores, often on endcaps. The significant thing about this brand is its commitment to small retailers versus big stores like Whole Foods, which gives independents an edge. We also focus on Clark’s private-label set, Vitality Works, and carry NOW Foods and Aura Cacia essential oils.

Educate staff. For us, the biggest thing that encourages customers to buy essential oils again and again is our education program. We teach the essential oil basics in some of our lower-division trainings. And just recently, we introduced an essential oil training module—the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy beginners’ program by Kurt Schnaubelt—for our staff.

Illustrate uses. It is one thing to carry essential oils; it is another thing to know how to use them. For instance, they can be used to make deodorants, ease pain, support bodybuilding, aid sleep or target headaches. To showcase these uses, we cross-merchandise in other areas of the store. Use testers liberally. We’ve also done in-store public demos, which really seem to get the ball rolling.

—Starkie Sowers, director of education, Clark’s Nutrition and Natural Foods Market in Riverside, California

 

Keep displays tidy. To capture decent sales, you need to keep the area clean and organized so it’s easy to shop. This goes back to the basics of how you succeed in any department, but essential oils are an especially hands-on experience, which opens up the opportunity for this area to get messier. And if you have recipe cards and other tools, your shelves can easily get disorganized. It’s also good to brand block to make shopping simpler. The neater and cleaner your section is, the more successful you’ll be—that’s for sure.

Really work your core. Realize that the majority of essential oils customers are shopping for a very basic, core set, which usually includes peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon. These are the category drivers. Shoppers first come in for the oils they know about, those that are easy to use, and the more they explore essential oils, the more daring they become. Having your core set on promotion regularly is a great way to build sales. You can also offer larger sizes of the basics.

Get personal with shoppers. This is one of those categories where if you see a customer shopping, you want to reach out. Share with them your experiences with essential oils, as well as what other customers have enjoyed.

—Sarah Super, wellness category lead, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association in St. Paul, Minnesota

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