Mention the term health food store and many people still think food—hippie food. This perception is changing though, and rightly so—sales of nonedible items are on the rise. According to the June Market Overview in The Natural Foods Merchandiser, personal care sales in natural product stores reached $1.8 billion in 2003, an 11 percent increase over 2002, and organic personal care sales were $232 million, an 81 percent increase over 2002. With the section growing rapidly, it?s important to keep up with the latest trends in personal care. From small corner stores to corporate giants, here?s a look at personal care trends in natural products stores across the country.
The small independent
Amazing Grace Whole Foods, Louisville, Ky.
Store size: 2,000 square feet
Trend: Local personal care products
Locally grown and manufactured personal care products are a customer hit at Amazing Grace Whole Foods, says Bunny Hayes, health and beauty aids buyer. As a result, Amazing Grace is increasing its involvement in the Community Farm Alliance, which ?is designed to help local farmers grow what local stores want to supply. Everybody benefits,? Hayes says. Local companies such as Herb Thyme, a winery that uses grapeseed oil to make health and beauty products, and Real Soap, which makes natural soaps, are top sellers at Amazing Grace.
?We try to stock a local alternative to whatever other brands we carry,? Hayes says. And the customers—many of whom shop at Amazing Grace because it is a small local independent business—are responding. Amazing Grace has seen its sales in local body care products grow by 20 percent in the last year.
The expanding independent
Brookesville Natural Foods Inc., Brookesville, Spring Hill and Inverness, Fla.
Average store size: 4,000 square feet
Trend: Whole-body health shoppers and packaging-driven shoppers
Laura Booth, owner of Brookesville Natural Foods Inc., credits the stores? growing health and beauty sales to customers becoming what she calls whole-body health shoppers. ?People want to make sure that what they put on their skin, as well as what they eat, is healthy,? she says. ?Consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of chemicals in their HABA products and are trying to avoid them.? Cosmetics by Ecco Bella are especially popular in Booth?s stores. ?Natural makeup seems to attract new customers who want to try natural products for the first time. Since they?re already spending money on conventional makeup, they don?t mind spending a little more for a natural alternative,? she says.
Booth also believes in the power of a pretty package. ?Products by Avalon and Alba Botanical sell well because of the beautiful packaging. Some customers are very drawn to that,? she says.
The medium-sized co-op
Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Sacramento, Calif.
Store size: 18,000 square feet
Trend: Ultra-aware customers seek pure, organic products
?Co-op shoppers tend to be more environmentally aware than other types of shoppers,? says Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op HABA Merchandiser Robin McKinney. ?The result is that customers are looking for high-quality, clean body care products and are looking to avoid specific ingredients found in most personal care products.?
Patrons in McKinney?s store are especially concerned about the presence of parabens—a common preservative found in personal care products—in their lotions and shower gels, and aluminum in their deodorants. The co-op responds by answering customer?s questions and making sure the products they want are available to them. ?The paraben issue comes up a lot,? says McKinney. ?Once customers have learned about parabens, they usually try hard to avoid them.? For this reason, organic brands such as Dr. Hauschka and Weleda are top sellers in the co-op. ?We also don?t carry any aluminum deodorants in the store,? says McKinney.
The small chain
Mustard Seed Market, Akron and Solon, Ohio
Average store size: 35,000 square feet
Trend: Organic personal care and heavily marketed products
Mustard Seed Market?s main product trend is found in organic HABA lines. ?People come to Mustard Seed to buy organic food and are also starting to buy organic HABA. We?ve had success with companies that have strict organic standards, like Weleda, Aubrey and Druide. The customers are very happy with their products,? says Kathy Doorman, HABA buyer for Mustard Seed.
However, Doorman attributes the stores? 6 percent increase in HABA sales not entirely to organic products, but also to an insistent marketing campaign Mustard Seed initiated in the last year. ?We have been very aggressive in promotions and very careful to bring in new and exciting products for the customers. If products are marketed and promoted correctly, it really drives sales, especially in HABA,? she says.
The corporate giant
Whole Foods Market
Locations: 162 stores in the United States and the United Kingdom
Average store size: 26,000 square feet
Trend: Organic products and local concerns
Whole Foods Market is the biggest natural foods corporation in the world. Tracy Reazer, body care specialist and merchandiser at the Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colo., says each store within the chain experiences different trends, mainly due to location. ?Different areas have unique concerns that create trends specific to that area,? she says. For instance, because of Boulder County?s high incidence of West Nile disease, a mosquito-borne illness, Bite Blocker has been a popular buy. ?It?s flying out the doors because consumers are worried about West Nile, but also don?t want to use DEET to ward off mosquitoes,? says Mary Kennedy, associate team leader at the Boulder Whole Foods.
Also, as in many of the various sized stores noted above, customers in Boulder are looking for clean, chemical-free products, and Kennedy attributes the store?s 25 percent increase in HABA sales to customers growing more concerned about ingredients and coming to Whole Foods to find pure products.
Besides a sprinkling of smaller trends, it seems organic HABA products are driving the market. So remember to look for the O-word when stocking your shelves.
Christine Spehar is a free-lance writer in Boulder, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 34, 36