Natural Foods Merchandiser
Shopping at health food stores: A 30-year organic love affair

Shopping at health food stores: A 30-year organic love affair

Try these 10 marketing techniques that have fueled one longtime natural products veteran's passion for the industry.

Health food stores have always been magical places for me. I thought that finding the best foods and supplements would unlock the secrets to a healthy vibrant life.

That wasn’t so easy in the early days. My local health food store was in a basement, staffed by earnest macrobiotic types. It was dimly lit, smelled like medicinal herbs, and the displays were uninviting. Maybe that intensified the feeling that the secrets to true health were hidden in this vault.

The transformation to today’s modern health food store, mirroring the growth of Natural Products Expo West and East, is nothing short of miraculous.

Here are 10 changes I’ve witnessed and would love to see more of:

1. Healthy organic produce.  
Yeah! In the old days, organic onions, potatoes, celery and apples were the fodder for the day. Today I’m delighted to see organic black kale, juicy blackberries and strawberries, snowy white cauliflower, and so much more. I look forward to planning my week’s meals around the organic foods available when I shop.

2. Glam cosmetics and skin care.
Hurray! For years I searched for skin care products without toxic ingredients. The pickings for soaps and body lotions were slim. Forget alluring cosmetics—they didn’t exist. Now, I revel in the gorgeous palettes of eye shadows and lipsticks, without worrying about rubbing phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid on my skin.

3. Personal guidance.
Thanks! I’m fortunate that my local health food store is staffed with experts such as naturopaths and homeopaths. When I’m not sure which supplement is better for me, I can ask for guidance about ingredients, dosages and which brand works best for what.

4. Baby products.
Yahoo! The wee ones in our lives are the most sensitive to toxins in everything from food to lotions to toothpaste. I’m delighted to see healthy, innovative snacks and baby care products that are as safe as they are cute.

5. Coffee, chocolate, almond butter.
Yum! I love getting organic, fair trade coffee to kick-start my morning. Ditto dark chocolate with every flavor from cassis to red chili peppers. Then there’s almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter and an increasing selection of delicious spreads, dips, salsas and tasty treats. Hurray for natural products that support my health and the planet.

6. Superfoods.
To the rescue! Choose your health elixir. It’s all here, from spirulina and chlorella to exotic black sesame seeds and golden berries. You can choose one superfood or many to mix into your whey or vegan protein smoothie. Or stock up on local superfoods such as wild blueberries or the humble onion.

7. Food fairs.
Can’t get enough! Like a mini Expo West, the store where I shop frequently has sample cups of smoothies to taste, almond and cashew clusters to chew on and new lotions to sniff and smooth on your skin.

8. Beauty demos.
Love them! I had the best “makeover” ever from a makeup artist gone rogue, who now uses only natural brands. I bought the products she uses because if natural can look this good … I’m in!

9. Educational events.
I’m all over them! Bring in the health experts, alternative health authors and organic chefs. I’ve seen rooms packed with eager health aficionados, and people starting their journey toward healing. Education is the key to helping more people, and well-known speakers are a great draw. I always learn something valuable at these in-house presentations.

10. Discounts, coupons.
Encouragement! Now that you’ve drawn the crowds, how about a little enticement to keep them coming back? With so many people watching their budgets, everyone appreciates coupons, loyalty cards and any other support towards buying more healthy food. 

Hmmm … does all this sound a lot like Expo East (and, of course, Expo West? The first time I attended, I felt like I was at my health food store on steroids—better make that “superfoods”!).

I was delighted, overjoyed, overwhelmed and before long … limping.

Expo West and East are the models of where the natural products industry is going. Health food stores are the microcosm, bringing it all to the local level.

Whether you run a health food store, or sell natural products online, use your imagination to incorporate some of these marketing methods for your business.  Who knows, you could start a 30-year love affair with your store or brand!

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