Just because people eat organic apples or gluten-free bread doesn?t mean they want to purify their reading habits.
Natural foods retailers are wising up to that reality and dishing out some temptations at checkoutâin the names of Vogue, Rolling Stone, Martha Stewart, National Geographic and others.
Tim Smulders, manager of Garden of Light natural foods store in Avon, Conn., recently added popular periodicals, a move he says was a no-brainer.
?I went through the top sellers from the [distributor] and said, ?I?m getting these,?? he says. ?The natural ones aren?t selling. I have 20 slots to fill on the shelf.?
He?s brought in Rolling Stone, Shape, Fitness, FitPregnancy, Mothering and O, The Oprah Magazine.
?I carry Oprah just because it?s Oprah,? Smulders says.
Natural food stores, experiencing greater competition with supermarkets, are looking for ways to stand out, says Scott Iseman, national account manager for Thornton, Colo.-based OneSource Magazine Distribution.
The company specializes in upscale magazines and focuses on natural food retailersâwhose shoppers are primarily women with money in their purses.
Whole Foods Market is the first naturals store Iseman remembers carrying home, fashion and other popular women?s magazines. Other stores have gradually followed suit, oftentimes prompted by a new and larger competitorânatural or traditionalâopening nearby, he says.
Real Simple and O are top sellers, as are certain city magazines like Boston or 5280 in Denver. Iseman?s other best sellers include Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic, Self, Vogue and Vanity Fair.
?Vanity Fair is hot. Did you just see the new Jennifer Aniston cover?? he asks, referring to the September issue, the magazine?s best-selling issue ever.
Sizzle aside, the niche natural food, fitness and health titles are holding their ownâoften outselling their mainstream competitors.
At Garden of Light, Yoga Journal is No. 1, but sales of Shape, Fitness and O have bested Alternative Medicine and Natural Health, Smulders says, noting that natural food has a small following in his community outside Hartford.
Alternative Medicine, Yoga Journal and Natural Health are, in that order, the top sellers for Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats Markets, says spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele. Rounding out the chain?s top 10 are Dwell, Real Simple, O, Cook?s Illustrated, Shape, Fine Cooking and Adbusters. Other titles include Harper?s Bazaar, Elle, People, Rolling Stone and Sunset.
The mainstream titles are new for Wild Oats in the last year or so, Tuitele says. Magazines usually amount to less than one percent of a store?s total sales, but they don?t take up space and they?re a guaranteed sale: Most retailers keep 20 percent to 25 percent of the cover price on titles they sell. Stores get credit for copies returned to the distributor.
?It?s small, but it?s meaningful,? Tuitele says. ?You don?t have the shrink.?
Wild Oats also carries popular books about dieting and nutrition, and cookbooks, such as those by Food Network stars Rick Bayless and Rachael Ray. The store will consider new additions, Tuitele says, ?if people want it, it?s not offensive and it?s consistent with our products.?
That attitude is becoming more pervasive, distributors say.
?The stores are being receptive to customer input,? says Peter Olson, senior vice president of The News Group?s U.S. division, based in Atlanta. He believes consumer demand has prompted more stores to add mainstream magazine titles.
?I think society has opened up,? Iseman says. ?Five or six years ago, we weren?t as open in retail. The marketplace itself has become so fiercely competitive â¦ people are willing to try new things.?
With magazines, the crossover into mainstream is made easier by the fact that magazines are most often an impulse buy. Most natural food stores, like most stores, stock their magazines near the checkout, Iseman says.
Still, many independent retailersâparticularly those committed to selling only organic and environmentally friendly productsâhave steered clear of the glossy home, fashion and pop culture magazines.
?Your typical, pioneer natural foods store has a certain principle they want to upkeep,? says Iseman, who used to work for co-ops in San Diego and New York. ?You have these mainstream magazines with pharmaceutical ads,? he says. ?That?s probably one of the biggest flashpoints. A natural foods store doesn?t want to support that.?
Christina Cassano, owner of Pumpkin?s Organic Market, a small shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., won?t carry magazines with features or advertisers that contradict her beliefs on food production, fair treatment of animals and the environment.
?It?s an extension of the store, how I choose products,? she says. ?I?m a little disappointed in magazines like Organic Style. It?s a lot of fluff and advertising.? (Organic Style has since folded.)
Cassano has considered adding Dwell. ?It has a lot of sustainable construction in it,? she says.
Then again, she says, there are plenty of nearby delis and newsstands where the dwellers in her neighborhood can get any magazine they want.
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a freelance writer in Denver.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 11/p. 14, 16