Natural Products Expo
Christine Kapperman

Natural retail channel remains core to natural products industry

Today, natural and organic products create excitement from the local food truck to the aisles of the largest of big-box stores. But the foundation of the industry—the natural, community retailer—remains a strong leader. Consider these numbers and reasons as you embark on Natural Products Expo West.

“A tale of two industries” once described the grocery business well. Conventional giants served the every day while scrappy independent natural foods stores evangelized a better way.

No longer. Today it’s not the simplest of stories.

Natural retailers of all size and focus serve communities across the nation. Supplement stores tend to sports enthusiasts and health seekers of many sorts. New delivery models arise from the vast and fast virtual business world, while meal kit delivery introduces customers to new cuisines and taps the DIY ethos of the day. Conventionals stock natural brands as the hottest new thing. And fast casual restaurants feature fresh and healthy over mystery meals to go. Hybrid restaurant-retail stores represent a lifestyle, not just a place to eat or shop. Even convenience stores have started to dabble in the clean eating revolution.

Parallel all of this with the rise of foodie-ism, conscious consumerism, farmer fandom and Americans hankering for health.

No, today’s story of natural is not simple.

It’s woven through the food chain, the buyer journey, and retail, restaurants and foodservice of today and tomorrow.

Natural is the story. Total food sales grew 2.4 percent in 2015. Natural grew 10.7 percent.

The traditional natural retailer remains core to this growth. Natural retail led in sales up until 2014 when conventional overtook natural by just 1 percentage point. In 2015, 40 percent of natural product sales continued to take place in the natural retail channel. The chart here shows just how natural products sales break down. 

Natural products retailers, the foundation of the natural products industry, have taken position at the center of their civic communities and our community at-large since the beginning. They serve as stewards of health, environment and economy in many ways. They have been the first—and often still are—to offer a new product a chance to prove itself with retail customers.

The local health food store has stood for decades as a community’s go-to source for wellness and advancing holistic health. With this role comes great responsibility as retailers must vet products to present the best the natural products industry has to put forward. Store owners and staff need to keep abreast of rising health concerns, confusing nutrition advice and research. They may not be health practitioners, but they are trusted influencers.

And they certainly hold this role at Natural Products Expo and for the greater industry. After all, it’s their cutting edge leadership and trend spotting that sets the course for where we’re headed. They’re the ones with the intimate connections with customers in the aisle; the ones who have honed an intuitive sense of what’s next in natural; the ones driven by strong, holistic health and nutrition vision.

These natural products industry influencers attend Natural Products Expo to connect with the best the industry has to offer. They come in search of the newest, most unique products that will help them differentiate themselves from the grocery store and big box down the street.

Most brand stories start with the assistance the founder received from a local natural products retailer who shared valuable customer insights, offered business advice or simply took a bet. Now some retailers operate formalized programs and even invest in local startups.

As natural changes, we continue to look to these leaders and must value greatly the local, community retailer.

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