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Retailers: Prepare for your new natural competition

Dr Robert Sargis uses a Food Rx handout with his patient
<p> <span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; ">Dr. Robert Sargis uses a Food Rx handout to review his recommendations for diabetes patient Judy Green during a visit at the University of Chicago Medicine. The university has partnered with Walgreens, which continues to expand into food and health beyond the pharmacy.</span></p>

Competition constantly emerges as a top concern for natural foods retailers. And those concerns and the competition itself are only getting bigger.

Walmart is the top organic seller in the nation. Safeway and Costco rank up there too. Whole Foods Market, another top five organic retailer, promises to add between 24 and 27 new stores this year; and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage also has big expansion plans.

And you thought competition from Whole Foods was big; it’s bigger than that. More and more retailers are moving into the natural products space in large and creative ways.

Unlikely natural competitors

Natural Foods Merchandiser wrote about Walgreens’ wellness concepts several months ago. Now you see it partnering with health efforts such as the Food RX program in Chicago that focuses on improving diabetes care and outcomes. Patients at local clinics will receive a prescription-like checklist of their doctor’s food recommendations and a coupon for $5 off $20 worth of healthy food at participating Walgreens locations. Thankfully, Food RX also provides $3 vouchers for a local farmers market.

Food Rx organizers say Walgreens is a natural partner because the chain already serves the target population and it’s committed to providing “greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains in many locations.”

Initiatives such as this deserve praise. But the megachain’s commitment to such change extends beyond Chicago’s South Side. Don’t think it won’t embark on your market.

Drug stores gone natural

Not to be outdone, Rite Aid pharmacies also are pursuing whole health. A recently relocated “Wellness Store” Rite Aid in Ontario, N.Y., features organic, gluten-free and natural foods; a GNC vitamin department; and additional staffing including “Wellness Ambassadors” who carry iPads for easy access to shareable information.

Watching the changeovers and reading headlines such as these below prove health food sensibilities have not only gone mainstream but are affecting societal change, sentiments that will continue to grow.

Here are just a few of those interesting headlines:

As such mass attention continues and investors remain sweet on food companies such as Annie’s, Whole Foods, Hain and the like, more entrepreneurs will want a taste of the fresh, organic fruits. They’re not just coming into your back yard—they are taking it to your customers’ front doors.

So worry about traditional competition, yes. But remember, the changing retail environment and increasing adoption of technology combined with a growing interest in healthy eating and increased concern about health make tradition a thing of the past.

Are you worried about natural competitors in unlikely places? Share in the comments.

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