Natural Foods Merchandiser

Retailers meet the future on Store Tour

Sometimes it takes someone from another country to illustrate just how unique the American natural products store system is.

I learned this firsthand during Thursday’s Store Tour, standing in a strip mall parking lot in Hollywood. Hans-Jurgen Specht, managing partner with the German supplements manufacturer Alsitan Naturheilmittel, was trying to figure out the concept behind Locali Conscious Convenience, the first store on the tour. “I know Whole Foods, but what is this?” he asked, examining the tiny storefront wedged between Bob’s Cleaners and a Century 21 real estate office.

How to explain the concept of a convenience store to a European? Locali, which opened last weekend, is kind of a sustainable 7-Eleven, I said. In fact, it’s even open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. But where a 7-Eleven has hot dogs and Slurpees, Locali has haute dogs--grass-fed beef franks on multigrain buns--and slushies made with agave-sweetened, ginger-infused fruit juice.

The 525-square-foot store may be the future of natural foods retailing, American-style. Half of the tiny space is devoted to a deli that serves sandwiches (meats without antibiotics, hormones, gluten and casein; organic produce; vegan cheeses; locally made, gluten-free bread), organic tamales, vegan donuts and more. There are even low-glycemic sno-cones made with flavored organic brown rice or xylitol syrup and reverse-osmosis water.

Customers can fill up their own water bottles from Locali’s reverse-osmosis water sink for free, or they can buy a Locali bottle conveniently offered for sale above the sink. Another Locali innovation worth noting: The store buys canvas bags imprinted with its name and donates the bags to a local school. Kids decorate the bags with artwork featuring a sustainable theme, and the bags are then offered for sale in the store for $22 each. It’s a win-win situation: Customers get a cute bag, and proceeds benefit the school.

The rest of the space is devoted to convenience items with a natural twist--recycled plastic razors, vegan floss, soymilk, liquid egg whites, vegetarian dog biscuits and a fairly extensive selection of local, organic wine and microbrewed beer.

About 50 Localis could fit into another store on the tour--Mother’s Market & Kitchen in Santa Ana. The 25,000-square-foot store, which opened in November, is not only more than twice the size of each of Mother’s four other Orange County locations, it’s also set up differently than its other stores. Because the Santa Ana store is situated in a heavily Hispanic, business-oriented area, it’s much more focused on grab-and-go and ethnic foods than other Mother’s.

According to Mo George-Payette, the Santa Ana store’s director of purchasing, the typical Mother’s sit-down restaurant has been replaced with a food court that features a burrito and taco bar, pizza station, juice bar and deli, bakery, hot bar (complete with natural nachos) and salad bar.

Other innovations include a baby section that could even be done in a much smaller store. The section is set up in a T, with an aisle devoted to clothing and diapers facing a cold case and freezer case with baby foods. The aisle intersects another aisle that has children’s supplements, personal care and baby foods.

Unlike the new Locali and Mother’s, the final store on the tour, Erewhon in West Hollywood, is a Los Angeles institution. Opened in 1968 by macrobiotics pioneer Aveline Kushi, it’s still a macrobiotic and raw food haven. The store’s raw food section is the largest in LA, and there’s a superfood and tonic bar--reishi cappuccino, anyone? Erewhon also carries its own line of raw prepared foods.

Recently, the store has expanded to cater to the largely Jewish population that lives nearby. There’s a large selection of kosher, organic wines, turkey and chicken.

But what really impressed tour attendee, Ryan Hazen of Real Food Market in Helena, Mont., was a pair of tile steps in Erewhon’s deli area. The simple steps not only elevate the cases to waist level, they also give space off the floor to display packaged goods.

--Vicky Uhland
Contributing writer
Natural Foods Merchandiser

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