Natural Foods Merchandiser
Focus on children's nutrition builds lifelong shoppers

Focus on children's nutrition builds lifelong shoppers

Nancy Fitzmorris began advocating healthier food for children long before today's obesity epidemic. See how she's made her store, Springs of Life, a destination for parents for more than 20 years.

When her daughter experienced symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Nancy Fitzmorris hit the books to research the cause. Fitzmorris experimented with cutting sugar, artificial colors and preservatives from her family’s diet and was astounded by the results. Not only did her daughter’s behavior rebound, but the whole family experienced health improvements. Her mission became sharing this information, which she continues through Springs of Life, her natural products store in Covington, La., and a successful radio show.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: How did you begin reaching out to parents?

Nancy Fitzmorris:
I got involved with my local PTA. I remember attending a meeting about hyperactive kids during which organizers asked parents to share their stories. I told them my daughter had become hyperactive but that I’d turned it around by changing our family’s diet. This was the 1980s, so the food-health connection was relatively unexplored. Some people seemed interested, but I could tell a lot of parents weren’t going to take these steps. That really broke my heart. Here these kids were not able to sit still; it wasn’t their fault, yet they were being punished.  

I started working at our local co-op and teaching nutritional classes in my home. When the co-op closed, people wanted to know where they could buy the food I’d been suggesting. I opened a small co-op in an unused room in my husband’s office, and it just grew and grew. More people kept coming, wanting more and more products, so eventually I bought my own building.

NFM: Was the radio show a result of your store’s success?

NF:  I think in some ways. I frequently would bring guest speakers into my store to discuss health issues. I’m also a certified nutritionist, so I think that’s why a local radio show first asked me to be a guest. That went well, so I was often invited back. The station I’m with now had heard me on that show, and when they had an opening, they asked if I wanted to do a 30-minute show once a week. I thought it would be a great opportunity to share information.

The show’s goal is to teach people and ask basic questions. Why do you eat what you eat? Do you drink enough water? I just want people to have the knowledge to make positive health decisions. I know a lot of folks aren’t going to read a book, but they might be driving around, hear my show and get little bits of information that will make them think.

I’ve been doing the show for more than 10 years now, and I love it. I’ll often repeat topics because the truth is the truth. How many times can you repeat the truth? You need good digestion; you need to chew your food well; you need water. There is so much that we just forget about.

NFM: Has your store benefitted from the show?

NF: Customers come in all the time and say, “I listened to your show this week; it was great!” It also helps draw a lot of new customers. I feel like it’s the best advertising I can do, and I’m actually having an impact on people’s lives.

NFM: Why do new customers come to Springs of Life?

NF: I get a lot of referrals from people who are really sick—especially those who’ve tried traditional approaches and aren’t getting any help. I also have many moms come in who don’t want to put their kids on drugs. I know medications can help if a kid’s really struggling, but sometimes diet corrections that address allergies are all that are needed. That was certainly my family’s case. Now my children work in the store with me and help
other parents.

3 tips for communicating with parents

Ask questions. Before recommending any products, Fitzmorris or one of her staff starts with one question: What are your child’s favorite foods? A love of pastas and breads or cheese and milk might indicate a gluten or dairy intolerance, she says, because the foods we crave are often the ones we have the most trouble digesting. Fitzmorris recommends parents cut problematic foods and see if there’s an improvement before taking further action.

Keep it simple. Rather than immediately turning to herbs and supplements to address conditions, start with basic dietary suggestions such as drinking more water or adding fiber and protein, which are often lacking in American diets. “I want to make the information as simple as possible so customers understand and it sticks,” she says. “The goal is for them to walk away thinking, Oh, that really makes sense.”

Provide free material. Keep information on hand about the products you regularly suggest so interested parents can do their own research. Springs of Life has a library through which customers can check out wellness books and DVDs or read and watch them right in the store.

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