Before there was a natural aisle in virtually every supermarket, there were independent natural foods retailers across the country that tirelessly championed clean, safe and ethical products for a healthier lifestyle. These stores created the natural products industry – working closely with budding brands on everything from creating customer demand to pricing to building distribution channels.
Today, with that same industry growing exponentially, suppliers must establish sustainable growth strategies that allow them to maintain their mission, the integrity of their products and their relationships with these champion independent retailers - while at the same time growing to meet consumer demand.
Robert Craven, CEO of MegaFood, has coined the memorable term “mass slippage," referring to natural brands beginning to sell their products to mass-market, chain retailers including conventional pharmacies and big-box supermarkets. One could argue that wider accessibility of these brands is a good thing – it allows new customers (who wouldn’t otherwise shop in natural food stores) the opportunity to buy healthier products. On the other hand, there’s the very real danger that “mass natural” brands will have to compromise on quality to grow rapidly enough and meet the pricing demands of conventional stores. But will customers be made aware of the changes, or will they assume that natural deodorant brand is just as “natural” as ever?
I asked Michael Kanter, co-owner of Cambridge Naturals (full disclosure -- he’s also my father) about what makes mass slippage so challenging for the industry:
“When we bring a new product or line into our store, we endorse it, promote it and support it from every angle. When a brand chooses to go into conventional chains, it is much more difficult to compete on pricing and availability. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about the quality standards of that brand. Often, it’s not worth it for us to carry those products anymore.”
We recently removed one of these very well-known brands from the shelves at Cambridge Naturals. The company had become challenging to work with, the products no longer met our standards and our customers could find them in any store at heavily discounted prices. Since then, we’ve brought in a new mission-oriented, high-quality independent line to replace those same exact products. They are selling like hot cakes.
In what other ways is 'mass slippage' affecting the industry?