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Natural Foods Merchandiser

NFM Market Overview 2012: Methodology

The 32nd annual Market Overview includes data on store operations and the state of the natural products industry. 

The 2012 edition of Natural Foods Merchandiser’s Market Overview represents the 32nd year the magazine has presented statistics on store operations and the state of the natural products industry. From $1.9 billion in 1980 to $37 billion in 2011, sales in the natural products retail channels have come a long way.

Just as the numbers vary each year, so does the methodology for collecting, compiling, analyzing and presenting the data. This issue marks the 14th year NFM has collaborated with Nutrition Business Journal, a New Hope Natural Media sister publication and Penton Media property, to produce the data.

The inclusion of NBJ allows for a more complete and robust perspective of the natural products retail industry. The sales contributions of natural and organic foods, dietary supplements and other natural products through such diverse channels as food, drug and mass retailers; multilevel marketing; health care practitioners; mail order; and the Internet are also included in the $91 billion natural products industry figure depicted by the pie chart on page 23.

The primary vehicle for collecting data for the Market Overview is NFM’s annual store survey. This survey was distributed to a representative segment of the natural products retail industry, including, but not limited to, natural products stores, health food stores and supplements stores. They were asked 36 questions pertaining to store operations. Respondents from 370 stores or chains reported the results of their calendar year 2011 operations.

Most of the operations data pertain to independent and small-chain retailers divided into three categories by sales mix and eight subcategories by size. This data subset represents 11,926 independent and chain stores and $23 billion in total sales in 2011.

The $37 billion natural products retail channel is broken down into product category and region, and includes eight store categories plus the biggest chains—Whole Foods Market ($10.2 billion in sales), GNC ($1.4 billion in sales at store-owned and franchise locations), Vitamin World (owned by NBTY; $220 million in sales), Vitamin Shoppe ($758 million in sales)—and other specialty retailers (specialty/gourmet shops, personal care stores, health clubs, co-ops, herb shops, mall stands, etc., totaling $1.7 billion).

Although most of the operating statistics are averaged or aggregated from the responses, estimating total product sales for the entire industry is challenging. Total product category sales and organic sales figures were derived from statistical analysis of survey results in each of the eight natural products retailer categories. Accurate and complete sales breakdowns were reported by 370 survey respondents. Aggregate sales figures and the percentage of organic were then compiled in each product category; the resulting proportions were applied to the total sales in each category.

For product breakdowns and organic sales information, data from large-chain respondents were incorporated into their appropriate store category.  To complete industry sales subtotals from smaller natural product retailers, product sales in all of these store categories were added up, totaling $37 billion in natural products, supplements and other (including personal care, books, household products and pet products) and $11.4 billion in organic food and nonfood products. Organic figures were also compared and reconciled against findings from the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey data, also compiled by NBJ in the first quarter of 2012.

Data on mass-market sales and other sales channels are derived from several sources. Consumer-level data is compiled from U.S. government sources, The Hartman Group, The Natural Marketing Institute, SPINS/ACNielsen, Roper Starch, HealthFocus International and others. Retail sales and growth are also compared with scanned sales data from SPINS, SymphonyIRI Group and ACNielsen, as well as results of surveys published by other trade publications and individual company data. For supplements, mass-market retail sales data from IRI and ACNielsen were predominantly used, augmented with estimates for club and convenience stores not tracked by retail scanner data services, derived from NBJ interviews and manufacturer surveys.

Data from the nonretail channels were derived mainly from annual NBJ surveys of multilevel marketing companies, mail order firms, Internet sales and health practitioner sales.

Not all of the results of the NFM Market Overview survey of 2011 performance and sales are directly comparable with 2010 results printed in the June 2011 issue of NFM, as certain adjustments have been made. For a more detailed look at current and historical NFM Market Overview results, go to 

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