Natural Foods Merchandiser

Get Fresh!

Because naturals shoppers are so fragmented in their buying patterns, it?s useful to understand what makes them purchase their baked goods in one store, their meat in another and their supplements in yet a third.

In our research, naturals shoppers overwhelmingly valued freshness above all other service components studied. If you?re tempted to recoup costs by keeping cucumbers in the bin because they?re just a little soft, think again. Customers will notice, and they will go elsewhere, even if it means a longer drive or higher prices. Consider the experience of Sarah Park, of Charles City, Va., who said, ?There wasn?t a lot of turnover in the organic chickens at my old store. They would be stinky as soon as I brought them home. I stopped going there.?

On average, people are willing to travel an additional 10 minutes—up to a maximum of 40 minutes—for each perceived day of freshness. And that can translate into dollars. A natural products store in Traverse City, Mich., recently adopted a policy to sell only fresh sandwiches from the deli, rather than leaving them on the shelf for several days. Deli sales rose 50 percent.

Once consumers are convinced of the freshness of a store?s products, other things become more important, such as product selection and staff helpfulness. Product selection, in fact, offers retailers an opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competitors. By having superior variety and freshness in a ?signature? category, such as organic meat or fresh baked goods, they can draw in consumers like Adrianne Mossman of Phoenix, who says, ?I definitely make a special trip? to the natural/organic foods store. ?They offer, like, seven different types of a hard-to-find European cheese, and even Kobe beef.?

Signature Categories

Local Produce/Products


Bulk Items


Organic Meat


Fresh Baked Goods


Specialty Cheeses


Prepared/Deli Foods


Salad Bar


Pet Products


Scores reflect the degree to which respondents would be disturbed if a particular category were removed from their store. Higher numbers indicate more people would be disturbed to a greater degree.

Service Components That Create Loyal Customers

Natural Products Supermarket

Vitamin/Herb/Supplement Store

Natural Foods Store



Product Freshness

Product Freshness

Product Freshness


Product Selection

Staff Knowledgeability

Natural/Conventional Mix


Natural/Conventional Mix

Staff Helpfulness

Staff Knowledgeability


Comparatively Low Price

Comparatively Low Price

Comparatively Low Price


Staff Helpfulness

Product Selection

Staff Helpfulness


Staff Knowledgeability

Minimal Drive Time

Local Products

Source: NFM/IA

Researchers, using partial-choice analysis to compel respondents to make tradeoffs, determined specific levels of service customers were least likely to give up. Product freshness rated No. 1 across the board.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 8/p. 12

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