Enlightened Eating

Grocers give shoppers food for thought with lessons in organic and local produce.

"Local” and “organic” remain powerful selling points that drive double-digit sales in the produce department. In the past five years, dollar sales of organic fruit have increased by 123 percent, while organic vegetables have grown by 92 percent, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

“Organic fruits and vegetables remain the biggest of all organic categories, with sales of $14.4 billion in 2015 [including frozen and canned], up almost 11 percent,” says Maggie McNeil, director of media relations for Washington, D.C.-based OTA, with fresh produce alone accounting for $13 billion. “Almost 13 percent of the produce sold in this country is now organic. We don’t see this trend slowing down.”

While opportunities for continued growth abound, at the same time, consumer research shows that some shoppers are confused about the benefits of natural and organic products. What’s more, they’re hungry for knowledge about how and where their food is grown.

“Consumers are looking to farmers’ markets and local, specialized retailers as destinations for learning about natural and organic products, and as a way to connect with local producers,” notes Bellevue, Wash.-based The Hartman Group in its “Organic & Natural” 2016 report. “Those are two areas that food retailers might consider focusing on as a way to make themselves more unique when it comes to organic and natural products.”

Two rapidly expanding grocery chains in the United States are doing just that — delivering as destinations for organic and local produce while at the same time offering in-store and online nutrition education that helps shoppers eat and live more healthfully. The fast-growing Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, which operates more than 135 stores in 19 states, employs a health coach at every store. In addition to providing ongoing nutrition classes on topics ranging from eating more organic fruits and vegetables to healthy proteins to alternatives to sugary beverages, the coaches lead a variety of classes at local schools and businesses in their communities.

– Article by Jennifer Strailey, Progressive Grocer

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