Walking into a natural products store for the first time can feel like entering another world—new smells, different terms, strange foods, and to some people, peculiar personalities. But as health concerns increasingly drive conventional consumers to venture into this new land, if natural products retailers want these customers to return, they must make them feel welcome. I recently had the chance to chat with veteran natural products industry analyst Bill Crawford, director of retailer publishing programs for Boulder, Colo.-based New Hope Natural Media, and he offered suggestions on the best way retailers can do this and who exactly these shoppers are:
"A lot of consumer research shows that motherhood is a “gateway” into healthy shopping and eating," he said. "Retailers are wise to have their stores be “mom-friendly” by putting products for children together, having informative signage, offering samples, etc. These actions can help turn that curious and well-intended mom into a regular shopper –- not just for her kid(s) but for her whole family. These same actions will also work with a shopper, new to healthy products, that is making a dietary change to eat gluten free, to eat a vegan/vegetarian diet, to adjust to the diagnosis of diabetes, etc. These shoppers have questions and needs that natural products retailers are uniquely positioned to answer and meet.
To help you meet shoppers half way, the May issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser is entirely dedicated to addressing these shoppers. Until then, one of the best things for retailers to do is anticipate these customers' needs. Look through your product mix for items that deliver on flavor (often a primary concern) and also address the specific health needs that may drive new shoppers to your store. Before recommending any product, inform customers that you can offer suggestions but not recommendations. Serious health questions should be addressed with a certified health care practitioner.
Offer a list of product picks in a letter or flier and use shelf talkers to help guide new customers around your floor. "With the right information and guidance," Crawford says,"these actions can help turn a curious and well-intended shopper into a natural foods store regular."