RAISING THE BANNER FOR WHOLE LIVING

EDGEWATER, N.J. -- Whole Foods Market is the standard that traditional grocery chains can look to for whole-health merchandising at its best.The Austin, Texas-based natural foods supermarket chain, after all, has spent the past 20 years developing a format that not only serves the needs of natural health food practitioners, but reaches out to mainstream grocery shoppers to capture some of the $230

EDGEWATER, N.J. -- Whole Foods Market is the standard that traditional grocery chains can look to for whole-health merchandising at its best.

The Austin, Texas-based natural foods supermarket chain, after all, has spent the past 20 years developing a format that not only serves the needs of natural health food practitioners, but reaches out to mainstream grocery shoppers to capture some of the $230 billion being spent on what the retailer calls the "whole living" market.

Whole living goes beyond the chain's main focus of natural and organic foods into environmental issues and touches the body and mind as well. This was evident at Whole Foods' newest store here where nutritional products and specialized beauty and relaxation play a key role.

Situated at 905 River Road across from Manhattan on the Hudson River in a sprawling high-income, mixed-use waterfront development, the 50,000-square-foot Edgewater store, which opened last month, devotes a fifth of its floor space to nutrition and body care.

The four-aisle department is front and center -- one aisle away from the entrance to the store and adjacent to the inviting produce aisle. The nutritional supplement-beauty set is also adjacent to the WholePeople.com kiosk, an e-commerce site introduced last month that, among other things, offers a health and body channel consisting of nutritional supplements, body care, aromatherapy and personalized M.D. Under an exclusive e-commerce license with WholeHealthMD.com, the site offers advice on integrative medicine and wellness.

At the kiosk, consumers can find literature about the site, log onto it and sign on as a member.

In a statement, Whole Foods president Chris Hitt said Whole Foods is tackling the Internet in a fresh way since the merchandise on the site differs from that found in their brick-and-mortar stores. The site provides the retailer with a hybrid shopping model in three channels -- the Web site, a toll free phone number and the 100-plus stores in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Last year, Whole Foods generated $1.6 billion in annual sales.

John Mackey, one of the founders and now chairman and chief executive officer, added that there is synergy between the site, the 5 million Whole Foods' customers and the retailer's 1.5 million direct-market clients.

The health and beauty care/nutritional set at the Edgewater store has an inviting layout; four 34-foot aisles are divided in half. Information is an important component of the department. A library table "island" sits between the sets of aisles. Shoppers can pull stools up to a table that contains reference books on subjects such as homeopathy and aromatherapy as well as a health information terminal.

If that's not enough, the section also contains a service desk where helpful salespeople can be found. A sign in the department reads "Take us for a test drive! We'll gladly provide samples of any body product you wish to try."

Consumers are encouraged to sample products throughout the department; many bath and body care products as well as colognes have testers prominently displayed. The department also contains a designer-style sink near the cosmetics area at which consumers can try hand soaps, body scrubs and the like. Trial apparently works when it comes to selling product. The Peppermint Tea Tree hand soap by Essential Oil Products that Whole Foods was offering for a "test drive" by the sink was sold out and on back order, according to the salesperson. The product's inviting smell alone was enough to draw people to the bath and body department. Clever signage near the sink said, "Be warned, healthy skin can be habit forming."

Bath and body products are located in the lotion/shaving cream/facial care/first-aid aisle. Whole Health's private-label bath and body line is displayed on custom racks that echo the stylized design on the bottles. On these racks shampoo, in flavors such as lavender, aloe and rosemary mint; and bath gel, in flavors such as green tea, lavender and lemongrass ginger, are featured for $4.99 and $8.99 respectively.

A particularly attractive-looking line featured in the department is Essential Oil Products. Packaged in cobalt blue plastic bottles, the line has an upscale look. Lavender tea tree foot scrub sells for $9.99; body lotions for $7.49 for 8 ounces. Earth Therapeutics, Burt's Bees, Kiss My Face, and Zia were also featured lines as was an interesting line from Germany, Dr. Hauschka Holistic Skin Care. A staffer at the store singled out Dr. Hauschka for one shoppers' Rosacea skin problem and pointed out that the store had many items from Germany which is ahead of the United States in alternative products. The department also carried Ann Marie Borland, another natural skin care line from Germany.

Over 25 stockkeeping units were available in the Dr. Hauschka line, including Rose Day Cream ($23.95 for 1 oz.), Moisturizing Day Cream ($37.49 for 3.4 oz., and Cleansing Milk ($24.95 for 4.9 oz.).

The addition of these upscale, pricey lines (including Blue Q's hip Dirty Girl) to the mix combined with merchandising assets such as a large mirror, counter and stools, good lighting and the availability of cotton balls, gives the section an inviting feel that has more in common with a department or specialty store than a supermarket or drug store.

Color cosmetics represented in the store include Gabriel Natural Color Cosmetics, Zia Cosmetics and Hempcolors. At $8.49 for a Gabriel eye shadow and $10 for a lipstick, the store shares price points with department stores as well.

However, customers didn't seem to mind these prices. Asked what she thought of the store, one customer said she "loved it. It's the second time I'm here today. She also said "the selection is great. Some people say it's expensive, but compared to what? There's nothing like it to compare it to."

This is Whole Foods' fourth store in New Jersey. The chain plans to open another in Ridgewood, N.J., this fall and a flagship store is slated for Manhattan's Chelsea district next year.

Other customers seemed to be having a shopping experience similar to one they'd experience at a department store cosmetics counter. "Have you seen the perfumes?" asked one shopper. "They have great flavors like Dirt and Brownie." Indeed, colognes from Demeter Fragrances (sold in department stores such as Nordstrom) carried flavors such as Steam Room, Espresso, Laundromat and Lettuce along with more traditional scents, such as Ocean and Dandelion. The Pick-Me-Up aromatherapy colognes retail for $14.99 for 1 oz.

Soaps were also plentiful. They ranged from Zumbar bulk soaps that shoppers could cut like cheese by the pound ($18.99 per pound) to a large assortment of packaged Swiss soaps, Provence Sante, which sold for $8.99 and $12.99. About a 12-ft. section of glycerin and other specialty soaps in many fruit and herbal flavors were priced at the $1.99 range.

To give consumers even more of a specialty feel, the section also contains spa items, such as loofahs, body wrap towels (at $31.99), gift sets and cards.

That upscale approach is carried through to the essential oils/homeopathy/herbs/kids aisle, which has oils, incense, candles -- even a hair scenter that attaches to a blow drier. This section is also invitingly merchandised. In-line sections with a mirrored back and glass shelves allow the store to "boutique" featured items and create upscale displays.

One in-line set featured Baby Spa and Bella Mama products; another featured homeopathic products from Boiron and books, such as "The Family Guide to Homeopathy."

Books are also featured in an 8-foot section within the vitamin aisle. The availability of reference books, sales help, brochures, and the information kiosk are clearly aimed at helping educate the customer.

The magazine rack displayed an assortment of titles that ranged from the esoteric to popular. These included: New Age Healthy Living, Shape, Outside, Men's Health, Natural Living, Gourmet, Spa Finder, Feng Shui, Wine Spectator, Vegetarian, Bon Apetit, Herbs for Health, Vanity Fair, Saveur, Massage Body Work, Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Living Without, Charlie Totter Cook's Glutten Free, Lifestyle Guide for People with Food and Chemical Sensitivities , Feeling, Retreats and Spa, House and Garden - Inside the Homes of Collectors, Food & Wine, Gourmet , Prevention, New Age, Mother Earth, Fitness, Runners, National Geographic, Personal Transformation, Ab Busters, Journal for Mental Environment, Martha Stewart Living.

Lectures followed by question and answer sessions are scheduled once a week at the store's demo theater, according to a salesperson. A flier touting the appearance of a naturopathic physician to speak on bone health was scheduled for the week that SN visited the store.

The nutrition section is divided into "health-enhancing sections," such as antistress and mood, antioxidants, bone and joint health, children's heath, essential fatty acids, senior's health, sports nutrition, vision health, women's health and weight management, to name a few. Within the sections, signage explains what specific products do, such as "Hawthorn helps improve blood supply to the heart" and "B6 helps to maintain a regular heartbeat."

An endcap in this section was devoted to arthritis and joint health products, such as Solgar flax seed oil caps ($6.99) and Solgar gluscosamine complex ($28.49 for 60-count).

Lines such as Solgar, Natrol, Country Life, Solaray and Rainbow Life are featured; some in their own 4-foot sections within the department. A 25% off sale was being run on Solgar. Solgar 100-ct. vitamin E soft gels, 400 units, was on special for $12.97, a $4.32 savings.

Whole Foods also gives plenty of play to its own lines of vitamins and nutritionals, under Whole Foods and its premium 365 line, in a 8-foot aisle.

Sales help is knowledgeable and willing to help customers find information. When asked about a treatment for migraine headaches, the salesperson prodded the customer for more information, then recommended Evening Primrose Oil and provided a brochure.