Natural Foods Merchandiser

Win Wallet Share Through Creative Communications

Jennifer Tobin of Somerville, Mass., has had a typical romance with natural products and the retailers that carry them. Her ?first date? was with a delicious organic meal served at a friend?s house. The experience made her curious enough to venture into the Bread & Circus in nearby Cambridge.

She was careful not to go too far that first outing, purchasing only yogurt and organic fruit, products with which she was familiar. She still did most of her shopping at her local conventional supermarket, but over time she deepened her commitment to natural, organic and health products. Her sister-in-law told her about herbs, she sampled tempeh during an in-store demo, and she started picking up copies of Delicious Living and Vegetarian Times.

Today Tobin is in a full-time relationship with Bread & Circus, in conjunction with independent Cambridge Naturals. They have become her primary sources for food and health products, having won her heart and her wallet share.

?Wallet share? is the percentage of a customer?s total food and health products budget spent in your store. As a natural products store owner, manager or employee, you would expect to see increasing wallet share as increased average spending per trip.

So how do you woo your customers into deepening their relationship with you? Our survey respondents gave us some hints.

Sixty percent of respondents reported that they had increased the number of natural products used over the previous year. When asked which factors contributed to changes in their purchasing behavior, as well as the degree of trust they had for different sources of information, respondents most often cited health magazines or books and information from health practitioners. Stories in national media, product labels or other information (like signage or brochures) and advice from a friend or relative were motivators, too.

First-time naturals shoppers are beginning a knowledge continuum. They walk into a health food store knowing almost nothing about products on the shelves. What does Ginkgo do? What is flax oil for? How should bulgur be prepared? What are good functional foods for arthritis?

They want knowledge. Some of it can be provided by store owners and employees—in chunks that are easy to digest and fit their individual needs. The rest will come from a variety of sources that they trust—doctors, friends, national news, etc. Some tactics to build customer wallet share by facilitating these trusted sources of information include:

  • Always stock health magazines, books and cookbooks.
  • Build ties to local doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors and other health practitioners. Send them copies of stories about current issues like mad cow disease.
  • Issue health practitioners a ?Healthy Eating Prescription Pad? with a 10 percent-off trial for new customers who come to your store. With obesity and poor nutrition on the rise, they will appreciate being able to do something for their patients.
  • Promote word-of-mouth from your most loyal customers by using ?for you and a friend? specials.
  • Make seasonal gifts, and gift certificates or gift cards visible so that your current customers can spread the word about your store while spreading good cheer.
  • Run sampling and product demos often. If you have an exciting new product on promotion, get people to try it through sampling and make sure they can see it in an attractive end cap display.
  • Promote events with health care practitioners in your store and community.
  • When articles or stories appear in national media that ?tell the message? of healthy food and remedies, reprint them and give them to your customers. Record TV spots and replay them in your store. Link articles on your Web site.

You have allies in your quest to romance your customers, from Andy Weil to the products on your shelves. Use these advocates to build and strengthen your customer relationships. Your store sales will zoom while your customers lead healthier lives. Now that?s a solid relationship.

Woody Smith is vice president of The Intelligence Agency, a marketing consulting firm that quantifies consumer decision-making for natural and health products companies. Smith is happy to answer any questions at 231.932.0400.

Factors That Influence Spending on Health Products


Influence: % Who Changed Spending

Trust: % Who Always or Usually Trust This Source

Health magazine or book



Advice/information from a health practitioner



Article/story in national newspaper/magazine or on national TV/ radio program



Label or other information supplied with product



Advice/information from a friend or relative






In-store sample/product demonstration



Book or personal appearance of a health practitioner



Article/story in local newspaper or on local TV/radio program



Product advertising






Source: NFM/IA

A Look at Survey Respondents

  • 86% of respondents were female; 14% of respondents were male.
  • 93.3% reported being the person in the household primarily responsible for purchasing food and health products.
  • 87.2% of male respondents reported being the person in the household primarily responsible for purchasing food and health products.
  • Respondents reported spending 40% of their total household food budget, for an average of $144 per month, on natural, organic and health food products.
  • Spending on vitamins, herbal products, natural remedies and dietary supplements averaged $66.
  • Total average spending for natural/organic food and supplements was $210.
  • Average age was 45.
  • Average household income (before taxes) in 2003 was $63,900. 48.4% had a bachelor?s or graduate degree.
  • Average number of children was 0.6.
  • 63% of respondents were married; 18% were single, never married; 3% were widowed; and 16% were separated or divorced.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 8/p. 16

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