The word authenticity gets tossed around frequently in the natural products industry. Consumers value it. Brands have it. But what does this ubiquitous term actually mean when it comes to doing business in natural retail?
For some grocers, it means positioning their store as a resource for in-depth knowledge, achieved by investing in employees. “We give employees a large discount and also do a lot of training,” says Kevin Cotter of New Earth Market. Also, when suppliers invite retailers to their farms and operations—which they often do—he suggests sending employees along, too. Not only will they learn more about the industry and the particular farm’s or company’s roots, but they'll also feel like a valued part of your store’s team and mission.
Employee education is equally important for your bottom line. A 2011 study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making found that consumers can make purchasing decisions in as little as a third of a second. Employees are on the front lines of interacting with quick-thinking consumers, and if they can confidently recommend a product on the fly, you’ve just made a sale. Ask natural brand reps to provide short, powerful talking points to help influence shopper purchases. Or for products that you really need to sell, create quick-hit points on your own and post them in the employee break room.
Another way to bolster authenticity: Adopt an attitude of hyperlocalism, a term defined by the Lexicon of Food that means a food is grown, processed and consumed at the neighborhood level of a community. For some stores, such as Full Circle Health Foods Market in Winchester, Kentucky, this means collaborating with local producers to stock meats, honey and eggs, along with handmade jams, soaps, hot sauces and other items. Or it may mean planting store-owned acreage with produce to stock the store and even serve as an educational resource. Abby Saylor, owner and nutritionist of Abby’s Health and Nutrition based in Tampa, Florida, launched a sister operation, Abby’s Organic Community Farm, on 6 acres of farmland in nearby Lutz, which emphasizes education on raised garden beds suitable for home gardens.
Naturally Soergel’s is lucky enough to be situated on a family-owned orchard, where Amy Soergel hosts community events for her customers. Her most popular event at this venue? An allergen-free trick-or-treat night in October, for which she partners with allergen-free companies like Enjoy Life to dish out nut-free, gluten-free goodies to children. “We sell out within 24 hours with 150 kids,” Soergel says. “It’s an important part of what I do.”