Walk into the bazaar of a Middle Eastern town and you are met with a riot of gorgeous sights and scents. Piles of dates and dried apricots, spices and herbs in conical arrangements, full sacks of grains and beans—all abound in the midst of the scents of coffee and tea. The food is fresh and real.
Walk into the bulk foods department of a natural products store and you are treated to the same experiences. Like the bazaar, it?s a little intimidating, but once you get used to it you don?t want to be anywhere else.
Research published in NFM?s August issue (conducted by NFM and The Intelligence Agency) found that of the store components that matter most to a group of core natural products users, a full section of bulk products was among the most important. More than 60 percent of these core consumers stated that the availability of bulk items was important or very important in their choice of a primary natural products store.
Why is this finding important? Well, since these consumers also reported shopping for their natural products purchases at an average of four different types of outlets, having a well-maintained bulk department can be an important factor for making your store the main destination for core consumers. What are customers looking for in a bulk department?
David Hampton, bulk buyer for The Wedge food cooperative in Minneapolis, says several distinct groups of consumers regularly shop his bulk food department:
- Cost-conscious consumers who use bulk products as a way to extend the family shopping dollar
- ?Foodies? who can purchase hard-to-find grains, spices and other whole-food ingredients in the bulk section
- Environmentally conscious consumers looking to reduce packaging
- Consumers with food allergies or special food needs who find a wide selection of alternatives in the bulk bins
While the bulk section of the store offers something to each of these distinct groups, the way in which you market to each must necessarily differ.
How do you ?sell? bulk?
Kevin Weaver, category manager for bulk foods with Wild Oats Markets in Boulder, Colo., sees the bulk section as one of the best places to tell the story of the company?s connection to local farmers, using photographs of growers at the point of purchase.
Janine Kashimba, food education director at City Market in Burlington, Vt., takes a direct approach, teaching classes about how to use the bulk section to obtain high-quality nutritious food at fair value. She also does in-store demos with the bulk bins.
Some other tactics to help people access the section and to use it as a way to promote your store are:
- Use prepackaged bulk items to get shoppers started in the section. Some popular items are trail mixes, nuts, dried fruits, granolas and baking items.
- Promote the section to local TV stations and cable networks for food shows.
- Let physicians, allergists and nutritionists in your area know that your store has many alternatives for those with special food needs. Use stickers or shelf signage in the section to guide shoppers to items that are gluten-free, low-sodium, etc.
How do you overcome difficulties in the bulk department?
Bulk departments suffer most from two potential problems: sanitation and cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is of particular concern to those with food allergies. This can be reduced by tethering scoops to bins in a way that prevents them being used on any other bin.
Despite its challenges, a full bulk foods section can be the heart and focus of a natural products store. It is also a way to differentiate a store from competitors and can be key to building long-term customer loyalty and sales. Dig in!
Woody Smith is vice president of The Intelligence Agency, a marketing consulting firm for natural products companies. Reach him at 231.932.0400 or [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 9/p. 27