TRYING TO MUSCLE IN

In areas where there is a demand for natural food, conventional operators are hoping that they can attract natural-food shoppers with convenient locations and marketing budgets that dwarf those of Whole Foods Markets, Austin Texas, and Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., the leading natural-food retailers.ned Central Market, a concept store emphasizing fresh departments, in Austin, Texas. The store

In areas where there is a demand for natural food, conventional operators are hoping that they can attract natural-food shoppers with convenient locations and marketing budgets that dwarf those of Whole Foods Markets, Austin Texas, and Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., the leading natural-food retailers.

ned Central Market, a concept store emphasizing fresh departments, in Austin, Texas. The store carries specialty groceries, but does not stock branded groceries or nonfood items.

King Kullen Grocery Co., Westbury, N.Y., which opened an 18,000-square-foot natural-food store under the Wild by Nature banner in East Setauket, N.Y. Six more are planned in the coming years.

Star Market Co., Cambridge, Mass., which launched "Wild Harvest" departments in several of its conventional stores to cater to the natural-food demand. Products include beans, baking needs, pasta, all-natural flour, milk substitutes and frozen vegetarian hors d'oeuvres.

Stop & Shop Cos., Quincy, Mass., which devoted about 28 feet in one grocery aisle in its prototype Super Stop & Shop store to natural food, including cereal, boxed dinners and canned goods.

"Conventional supermarkets are now starting to take the category very seriously," said Matt Patsky, securities analyst with Adams, Harkness & Hill, Boston. "They're waking up. You've certainly got an effort by a number of players to do a better job in the area."