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Conventional grocers mimicking natural retailers' advantage

man reading food labels

The ability of independent natural products store to compete in the modern marketplace worries me. Many things that didn’t exist just a few years ago challenge local stores.

Consider the proliferation of natural and organic products in every supermarket and drug store chain. Think of how many websites advertise not only a great selection of natural items but offer these at ever-lowering prices. Then within the natural products industry a number of strong, regional chains are regularly adding stores. This competition has well-run, effectively marketed stores that are gorgeous and possibly sell products at a low price. This is a tough set of criteria to compete against.

Staffing is one area of retail operation where independent natural stores have always had an advantage. The staff at local stores not only cares and shows good customer service, but they also live the lifestyle embodied in the products on the shelves. They are willing to show a shopper where to find a product and can share experiences with the item. What an advantage for a store to have: smiling, helpful, real-life advice.

This advantage, however, may be challenged. This recent article highlights the growing trend in the conventional grocery market to put dieticians in stores. The article quotes Phil Lempert, known as the Supermarket Guru, saying between 500 and 600 registered dieticians are in grocery stores and that this number’s poised to more than double by the end of next year. I don’t doubt it. I can easily think of a dozen supermarket chains that have been using dieticians for years. Now, more are adding them to corporate and store-level positions on a regular basis.

When I’ve tried to discuss this trend with a few natural products industry leaders, they have been quick to dismiss it. They’ve focused on the quality of advice a dietician would give compared with a nutritionist versed in natural and organic products. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know if that is comparing apples to apples or apples to watermelons. But that is not the point I am making.

Instead of only staffing stock clerks and floor sweepers in the aisle, grocery stores are putting staff in the aisles whose role is first and foremost to help shoppers make healthy purchases. While you may disagree with the advice, the fact is it is being given, and it adds a level of personal interaction and service that has not existed. Conventional groceries are stepping into an area of competitive advantage in which independent stores have not been challenged.

What should a local natural products store do?

  • Start investing more now in staff training.
  • Be sure employees focus on customers and know well the variety your store carries.
  • Make sure they are smiling, approachable, friendly and knowledgeable.

You cannot afford to be passive or to give away your advantage in this area.

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