How Independent Grocers Can Capitalize on Healthy Eating Trends
From low-carb diets popularized 20 years ago to the modern-day focus on plant-based and gluten-free foods, Americans are constantly reinventing themselves and what they put into their bodies.
According to recent studies, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown at five times the rate of total food sales. The focus on plant-based alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods poses an opportunity for grocery store owners not simply to respond to the latest trend, but also to be at the forefront of it.
Interestingly, as a servicer and supplier to independent grocery stores across the New York area and Florida, Krasdale Foods has seen a significant uptick in natural/organic and specialty products at all of our locations, including those in traditionally ethnic neighborhoods, where gentrification is less prevalent.
One reason that we see wide adoption is because of the educational programs that we put in place. With more than 10,000 items and a customer base that serves highly diverse locales, we work closely with individual owners to strike the right balance between selling to customers and marketing to them.
How can independent grocery store owners capitalize on long-term changes to dietary habits without wasting time on momentary food fads?
Listen and Learn
Independent store owners are well positioned to respond to changing diets, because they live and work in the communities they serve. They’re on the front lines, interacting with customers every day. Unlike previous diet crazes, modern-day consumers are looking to make smaller, long-lasting changes to their diets, incorporating more plant-based proteins and healthy foods without completely giving up their guilty pleasures.
Studies show that one in three Americans considers themselves a “flexitarian,” or someone who mixes meat with plant-based diets. With a growing number of people open to healthier eating, independent store owners are best positioned to understand their customers’ eating habits and what works for their needs and lifestyles. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for being in the stores and part of the community.
Be Open to Change
Independent store owners need to be nimble, making changes to fit larger trends. A prime example is Bob’s Red Mill, a producer of natural, certified organic and gluten-free milled products. For years, we considered this a specialty item. Today, all of our stores carry something from the 200-plus product line. The same is true with respect to dairy-free products – everything from almond milk to oat-based beverages to products like McNeil Nutritionals’ Lactaid line.
It’s important for independent store owners to be in the vanguard of change. While smaller stores can’t champion every trend, they still need to respond to what’s happening in their neighborhoods. If they’re too slow, they’ll lose customers; and once customers are lost, it’s very hard to get them back.
The internet has changed how people shop for food and other household items. Fortunately, locally owned stores haven’t been as heavily affected, because Amazon and others don’t cater to diverse local needs. At the same time, a box of cornflakes is a box of cornflakes, whether you buy it at the corner grocery or from Amazon, a big-box retailer or the dollar store.
To stave off growing competition, independent store owners should begin to build out beyond the center aisle, focusing on produce or value-added and convenience foods like cut vegetables, which are trending in every neighborhood. After all, as good as plant-based proteins may be, whole vegetables are still healthiest off all.
When it comes to responding to food trends, it’s important for independent store owners to do their due diligence by talking to people who live in their communities, watching the larger space and being open to new products. Americans are increasingly aware of what they’re putting into their bodies. Independent store owners need to provide customers with enough options while still leaving the decision-making to them.