​Small Health Food Chains Up Against Big, Niche Stores

In Central Florida, like other places in the United States, it is often the case that small health food stores serve as a community’s pioneers in the markets of organic food, natural health products, and vitamins.

Unfortunately, many are now fighting for their existence as the public’s demand for these specialty items grows and niche supermarket chains step in to fulfill the need.

What does the market look like currently?

According to the Organic Trade Association, the sale of organic food grew to almost $45 billion last year while the vitamin and supplement market climbed to close to $28 billion. A large part of this growth comes from companies such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Lucky Market, all of which have recently launched a string of new stores, including in Central Florida. Meanwhile, Publix, Florida’s largest grocer, is also expanding its GreenWise label, a label that includes organic produce, natural foods, and environmental household products.

The Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s-type supermarkets are typically much larger than independently-owned health food stores. Whole Foods stores tend to cover an estimated 40,000 square feet, as compared to 5,000 to 7,000 square feet for larger independent shops. With additional space comes the advantage of offering a much larger range of products and services. And because of their national presence, they additionally have access to greater marketing resources, notable foot traffic, and options for a variety of in-store services like hot bar items as well as juice bars.

So how do smaller chains compete against these giants?

Chamberlin’s of Orlando is currently experiencing such a challenge. The company, which was founded in 1935 and now owns six locations, is opening a new flagship store after losing the lease on its current one. While experiencing stiff competition from the likes of Whole Foods, it has stepped up to the plate by expanding its organic produce and special diet sections, as well as offering more products from local farms and installing a juice bar. They have also begun holding more in-store events like free winter wellness workshops to attract customers and solidify the store’s reputation as an expert in the area of natural health. This accent on community and support of local businesses is expected to appeal to consumers who don’t always like the impersonal feel of big box stores.

Helpful and well-informed staff is another competitive advantage. Because a high percentage of Chamberlin’s profits come from the sale of vitamins, supplements, and beauty products, the store is making sure that its personnel are trained to counsel customers and assist them in making the right choices.

Instances like these of Central Florida retailers are unfortunately all too common. Small stores across the board are fighting to stay in business as the world of niche supermarkets continues to expand seemingly exponentially. To stay alive in a health conscious world that values not just nutrition but also accessibility and convenience, means looking for new angles to draw in customers, retain customers, and ultimately retain business.

Marketing strategies will be key. Being transparent about your farm-to-table narratives will prove essential. Going green to appeal to those that fear the environmental impact of big stores will also be critical. Efforts must be made and changes must be made if what we want to see is small, independent health food retailers not just survive but succeed.

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