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Natural Foods Merchandiser

4 tips to help you reach gourmet consumers

Specialty retailers understand the value of the natural channel and carry products that combine health, wellness, sustainability and convenience with gourmet quality. Natural retailers interested in growing their business should do the same for specialty shoppers.

If your store is not attracting and retaining gourmet shoppers, you could be missing a considerable opportunity. Consider the similarities between natural and gourmet customers. Both seek high-quality foods, locally sourced ingredients and “house-made” products. For these shoppers, a trip to the grocery store is not a necessary evil, but a chance to gain information, peruse new items and find inspiration for new dishes.

“Specialty retailers understand the value of the natural channel and carry products that combine health, wellness, sustainability and convenience with gourmet quality,” says Kathryn Peters, executive vice president of business development at SPINS, a market research firm in Schaumburg, Ill. If you’re interested in growing your business, you should do the same for specialty shoppers.

Attracting gourmands isn’t as easy as stocking up on gourmet goods. Just as natural and gourmet customers overlap, they also diverge. While naturals shoppers primarily look for traceability and products with sustainable, healthy ingredients, this isn’t necessarily a top concern for specialty shoppers. Rather, they’re seeking the gourmet “find”— a food that exudes both flavor and adventure, something that may not be easily obtained. How can natural foods retailers please both camps? Here are a few tips.

Accept that it’s OK to go gourmet. Including gourmet items in your product mix does not mean you have to alienate your current customer base. Many gourmet foods adhere to the same standards you’ve already established for your store. Finding products that are at home in both categories is becoming easier—SPINS tracks more than 700,000 UPCs in both the natural and gourmet categories and reports that new products introduced in the gourmet channel increase by nearly 4,000 UPCs each month. 

Stock popular categories. You don’t have to rethink your entire product mix if you focus on carrying items in top-selling gourmet categories. “Coffee, chocolate, olive oil and other specialty oils, cheese, and cold beverages are the most frequent purchases by specialty food consumers,” says Ron Tanner, spokesman for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Start by focusing on cheese, Tanner suggests. Between 2009 and 2010, cheese sales grew significantly—2.1 percent, according to a survey from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel.

Help your customers in the kitchen. One thing that sets both natural and gourmet retailers apart from conventional stores is strong relationships with customers. In addition to ensuring your staff can offer information on new specialty products, add gourmet cooking classes to your education calendar. Along with information on gluten-free living and genetically modified foods, Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets offers more than 1,000 cooking classes annually that cover everything from basic skills to gourmet meal preparation. 

Create a beautiful space. Your store should be a place where customers want to spend time. At Central Market, based in San Antonio, Texas, the serpentine-flow, European-style layout invites customers to linger. “It’s part of the shopping experience,” says Aimee Deputy, senior manager of marketing and communications for the store. “Whether customers are seeking gourmet or natural foods, our store makes it a priority to provide service in an engaging, open and friendly space.” You can do the same for your store by replacing bulbs in light fixtures to ensure even lighting or hiring an industrial crew to give your space a deep clean.

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