REGIONAL CHAIN: Sunflower Farmers Markets

With its focus on limited assortment and lower prices, Sunflower Farmers Markets brings a different perspective to the natural retailing game. And with a $30 million infusion of capital earlier this year from a California investment firm, it's ready to blossom like its namesake. Over the next five years, Sunflower hopes to increase its number of stores from 14 to 50, putting down roots in cities like

With its focus on limited assortment and lower prices, Sunflower Farmers Markets brings a different perspective to the natural retailing game. And with a $30 million infusion of capital earlier this year from a California investment firm, it's ready to blossom like its namesake.

Over the next five years, Sunflower hopes to increase its number of stores from 14 to 50, putting down roots in cities like Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas — the birthplace of Whole Foods Market — along the way. It's a bold proposition, but Chief Executive Officer Mike Gilliland feels that targeting price-conscious consumers is working especially well right now, a strategy that will prove successful in the long run.

“We think we're tapping into a different market segment, and so far it seems to be working pretty well,” he said. “We're in kind of the right place at the right time, with all the concerns about food prices and the economy and everything else. People who shopped at Whole Foods recently might be shopping with us right now.”

A big draw for shoppers, Gilliland said, is Sunflower's emphasis on produce, which accounts for 25% to 30% of store sales. There's also more than 300 private-label offerings, which Gilliland hopes to increase by 100 SKUs each year for the next three years.

To help build trust and educate its customers, Sunflower plans to invest in healthful programs and in-store classes over the next year and a half. Currently, the retailer is recruiting a company dietitian.

“I think especially in our segment of the business, where our customers might not be complete experts in natural foods, we have a need to educate folks,” said Gilliland.