Not unlike most industries, natural grocery stores across the U.S. have been called to adapt in the trying times of inflation. From stores in sleepy midwestern towns, to big cities alike, the way shopping is conducted and how retailers and manufacturers are reacting is ever evolving with one end goal: to make it work.
Humboldt county’s Wildberries Marketplace, in the city of Arcata, has noted a key influence that inflation has played in how customers shop. Vince Graves-Blandford, the store merchandiser, has stated that what customers are buying is different than last year. This year, supplements and beauty products are down 8.5%, while frozen and food service are up, by 10% and 11% respectively. Wildberries is a market that sells both conventional and natural, though the natural sales far exceed the conventional.
Graves-Blandford explains the changes Wildberries has made to accommodate the current conditions: “We have adjusted our business practices by expanding our frozen meat selection by way of a remodel,” he says. “Frozen meat now dwells within two freezer doors, and food service offerings line the shelves behind another door. The store revamped its food service and juice bar selections to serve growing demand among customers.” He also notes that conventional items’ prices are going up at a higher rate than natural products, closing the price gap between the two. This is making customers’ go ahead and purchase the natural product instead.
Mary Lee Visnovske owns Earth Mother Health Foods in Farmington, Missouri, the largest natural foods shop in southeast Missouri. This year, Earth Mother has experienced a huge drop in customer traffic. Visnovske thinks it’s due to overall the precarious economic circumstances, especially high gas prices. Due to the desire to remain competitive, Visnovske has not increased product prices, even though she pays more for them. She is operating at a monthly loss of thousands of dollars. Still, Visnovske remains strong and optimistic, weathering the proverbial storm. Earth Mother has been open 31 years, and this is not the first time the store has struggled. “I think it will get better. I’ve had years down before, but when you have five months down, you think what in the world are we doing here? We had a big year last year, you know?” Visnovske notes.
In San Diego, four store chain Jimbo’s Naturally, which carries mostly organic products, has also noted differences unique to this year: beef, specifically grinds, are having an uptick. COO, Justin Jackson, is proud that despite inflation, Jimbo’s is doing their best to remain fair and not take advantage of their customers. He is only increasing product prices as necessary and not widespread to turn a higher profit. Jackson says he remains on good terms and in open communication with their manufacturer partners on keeping prices stable or with minimal impact. “It’s not a one-sided thing, and just one party takes it on the chin” Jackson says. “Brands are just as concerned as retailers. If customers don’t buy it, then retailers won’t buy it, and sales for brands go down.” Jimbo’s also credits their strong customer loyalty as a prime factor in remaining a successful business during this time.