Natural Foods Merchandiser

When conventional buyers shop for naturals

Most mainstream retailers carry natural and organic products—Natural Foods Merchandiser's Market Overview reported that natural and organic sales in this channel were more than $20 billion in 2007. But do mainstream buyers choose products the same way naturals retailers do?

The editors at NFM were curious—and we thought you might be too. Here are answers three of five different retailers gave when we asked how they choose naturals and organics for their stores.

What would Mom do?

Balls Food Stores
Jennifer Egeland, R.D.
Natural Foods Buyer,
Health and Natural Department

  • 29 stores in Kansas and Missouri; operates 11 stores under the Hen House Market banner and 19 under the Balls Food Price Chopper banner.
  • Store sales $433.7 million as of year-end 2007.
  • Natural and organic products are offered in a store-within-a-store format.
  • Average store size: 60,000 square feet-70,000 square feet.

    One thing I do as I look for products is put on my "Mom" hat. As a working mom, I look for things that are healthy and convenient, organic and natural, that my kids will eat.

    We are just starting to see more offerings for this group—skillet meals and one-package items that are both healthy and quick. I also try to think as a mom in general as I look at what the trends are showing. While the idea of convenience has been around for quite a while, natural and organic shoppers didn't really have many options.

    As a dietitian, I review products for special dietary needs like gluten-free, low-sodium and allergy-free foods. We actually have a lot of people asking about gluten-free products. In our larger stores we have a 4- to 8-foot gluten-free set, but we are trying to expand that to 12 feet. I also put together a list of gluten-free foods from our general grocery offerings to help customers find them.

    In general, we use category management to review turns and see what is selling well. But in the natural and organic section, it is really new items that drive the category. Our main emphasis is to organize products in a store-within-a-store concept, but it is tricky when mainstream brands come out with organic options. I think people buying products in the health and natural department do so out of love for the organic movement or a health necessity for certain foods, so they are staying loyal to those natural brands.

    Quality time

    Publix Super Markets
    Maria Brous
    Director of Media and Community Relations

    • 972 stores in the Southeastern U.S. including three Publix GreenWise Markets. 2007 sales: $23 billion.

      The most important factor for us is quality, quality, quality. We have strict quality-assurance standards, and we do independent audits of supplier facilities [looking for cleanliness and good manufacturing practices]. In addition, serving our customers' needs is a must. We find and evaluate great new products because our buyers are committed to health and the natural and organic lifestyle—it's their desire to be on the cutting edge of the business.

      We also heavily rely on our suppliers to provide us with the newest top-quality products.

      And our customers help with that as well—they keep us informed about products they would like to see on our shelves. We receive customer requests in our stores and via e-mail and phone calls. Some of our stores have a dedicated natural/organic section; in others, the products are co-mingled within the regular categories. Our GreenWise Markets focus on health, natural and organic products and prepared foods, but like our other stores, they also carry traditional items from the more traditional Publix locations.

    • Organic and natural sections are organized depending on the layout of the store. The GreenWise Markets focus on healthy, natural and organic products and prepared foods. They also carry some conventional brands. Traditional Publix stores focus on the mainstream brands with organic and natural integrated but segregated within categories. Stores range in size from 27,000 square feet to 74,000 square feet.

    The Intuitionists

    Hannaford Brothers Co.
    Art LaDue
    Category Manager

  • A division of Delhaize America, a subsidiary of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group. Operates 167 stores in the Northeastern U.S.
  • Stores are organized with a dedicated natural/organic section; they also merchandise organic and natural products within categories.
  • Average store size: 48,000 square feet.

    We certainly see a lot more products than we actually have room for on the shelves. We do use category management, but these days it is part science and part intuition.

    We are always on the lookout for items that represent or signify upcoming trends. In the end, the products we choose to carry may not even be on a listing for movement or share or any other typical metrics.

    We get a sense of what those trends are by reading trade publications and talking to the trade. We also run customer panels, particularly in the gluten-free category. We go to the local celiac association and ask for volunteers for the panels so we can solicit their opinions about what they want and don't want. We also use customer-survey data to gauge their propensity to purchase new items or private-label products.

    Our Nature's Place private label brand offers high-quality certified organic and natural foods at affordable prices. Criteria for these products is that they have no artificial ingredients, including colors, flavors, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, added growth hormones, antibiotics, growth-promoting drugs, monosodium glutamate or nitrates/nitrites. But because we operate in so many different markets, we try to make sure we have things to make up a core naturals offering. Beyond that we look at natural and organic items submitted and make a decision based on the viability of the item itself.

    Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXX/number 1/p. 14

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