PORTLAND, Ore. -- Now that the prototype Lake Oswego store is exceeding volume expectations, Nature's Northwest here is launching another natural food and lifestyle unit, along with two additional new stores.
The second prototype store opens in June on 15th St. and Fremont. Like the Lake Oswego store, it will have a salon, spa and cooking school. Another new unit will open at 28th and Burnside Ave. in May. The third new store, coming in October, will be 27,000 square feet and will be in nearby Gresham, Oregon's third largest city, said Brian Rohter, vice president and general manager of Nature's Northwest.
Currently, three grocery categories in both conventional and natural products -- cereal, chips and snacks and beverages -- are the top sellers for Nature's Northwest, according to Joel Dahll, grocery merchandiser for the chain.
Nondairy beverages are also very big, he said. Most stores have at least 8 linear feet of soy and rice beverages. Demand for these items has been stoked by positive mention in the press, especially about the health benefits of soy, he said.
In beverages, Dahll said the top items are soft drinks, juice and bottled water, rather than beer and wine, although wine also sells very well. Bottled water has been a big category, and its sub-category of "designer waters," with added minerals and electrolytes, becoming popular over the last year, he said.
At the Nature's stores, a significant portion of sales comes from the wine category. Along with beer, wine is included in the specialty food department, that also stocks cheeses and some other gourmet foods. Employees get together every Thursday morning to taste wines, which Dahll says "helps our employees learn, in a non-intimidating environment."
The chain is getting ready to run Cinco de Mayo-themed ads for the first week in May, when it promotes Mexican foods such as tortillas, refried beans, taco seasoning, and appropriate beverages.
Rohter also mentioned that the cooking school at Lake Oswego is successful and has been attracting top chefs to teach classes. The other night, he said, a chef from a popular Thai restaurant was cooking. "The buzz was unbelievable, with people gathering around the periphery. I think we are right on target," the general manager said.
The native Portland community, as well as those who have moved here, is very excited about food, and very interested in food, Rohter said.
Oddly enough, the rainy weather here only serves to stimulate interest in trekking to a grocery store that is a community gathering place, Rohter said. In addition, the moderate Pacific Northwest climate nurtures an abundance of high-quality, locally grown foods.
"I am unaware of any community where one company dominates the natural foods market like Nature's does in Portland," Rohter said.
He also said the prototype, in Lake Oswego, is exceeding volume expectations and is the model for the new Fremont store.
The existing Fremont store, on Northeast 24th St., "is small -- 8,000 square feet, with only 12 parking spaces -- and is one of our oldest stores." The new unit will have 34,000 square feet and will be located 9 blocks west of the old store. "It's a great community. We have a lot of brand equity in that community," Rohter said.
Nature's Northwest is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Nutrition Centers, Pittsburgh. The prototype stores have a combination allopathic-homeopathic pharmacy, spa, salon, health center and cooking school.
The Laurelhurst store, coming in May, is 15,000 square feet, and is located only about a mile and a half from the company's Division Street store in East Portland. By design, it will be a smaller, neighborhood store rather than a full-service destination store like the ones in Lake Oswego and on Fremont, Rohter said.
By October, the chain will have eight stores in a four-county market area of 1.2 million people. All the units are adopting the Nature's Northwest name, Rohter added.