The owner of The Whole Wheatery, Cheryl Hughes, hasn’t missed a Natural Products Expo West since 1983—well, with the exception of one while on vacation in Italy. Hughes says she makes Expo a priority because it enables the industry to exchange ideas and share energy. “The new information and the plethora of products are incredibly stimulating,” she says. “It’s like getting a jolt of adrenaline that I can take into my day-to-day store operations.”
The same year Hughes attended her first Expo West, she opened The Whole Wheatery—a 10,000-square-foot natural foods store and restaurant in Lancaster, Calif. She’s since helped shape the natural products industry by assisting in the development of Good Organic Retail Practices for the Organic Trade Association and sitting on the boards of several key nonprofit and trade groups, including Citizens for Health, which helped write DSHEA; the Natural Products Association; and the Food Marketing Institute. Although the business has changed much over the past 29 years, Hughes’ enthusiasm for supporting small natural food retailers is as strong as ever.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: Opening a store is exciting but also risky. Any advice?
Cheryl Hughes: If you don’t free yourself of some of the responsibilities, you will suffocate. That’s the biggest problem I see with small stores. Founders will come in with one set idea, not be flexible and feel like they have to do it all themselves.
NFM: Has your role changed over the years?
CH: Well, when you start out with four people and end up with 53 people, everything changes. I still wait on customers, but I don’t do ordering anymore—except to pinch-hit for people who are sick or on vacation. I turned some of those responsibilities over to other people and now spend a lot of time troubleshooting how we can move a section, best merchandise a specific product or do something new, such as tie supplements to the dairy department.
NFM: Any trends you’ll be looking out for at Expo West?
CH: I’ll be searching for ethnic products. The Latino market is huge this year. Even though my store is not focused on ethnic foods, I’ll be looking for ways to incorporate an ethnic section, such as stocking nutritional healing books in Spanish, staffing a Spanish speaker and adding new products that appeal to Latino customers.
NFM: What questions will you be asking as you walk the show floor?
CH: How would these new products fit in my product mix? What do I need to support them? What other trends are there? Am I looking at Asian? Am I looking at Indian? We see a lot of new Indian food coming in. What herbs do people from other cultures want? What supplements do they want? What brands and companies do they buy from?
NFM: What’s your favorite part of attending Expo West?
CH: Networking with my cronies. You always need to get reinvigorated, and that’s what Expo does.
Follow Cheryl Hughes' lead: 3 tips for standing out
Store size: 10,000 sq. ft.
SKUs: Approx. 100,000
Open since: 1983
The Whole Wheatery
44264 10th St.
West Lancaster, Calif. 93534