Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has begun offering a bigger assortment of meat and seafood at its 153 stores in 19 states.
The chainwide departmental refresh also brings a new ranking system for fresh and frozen meat and seafood to make it easier for customers to shop for items with the quality standards they seek, Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers said Tuesday.
At the “new and improved” meat and seafood section, shoppers will find more high-quality and exotic varieties of grass-fed meat, pork, poultry, fish and seafood. That includes offerings such as bison, beef, yak, wild boar, elk, venison, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey and ostrich on the meat side, and cod, mahi-mahi, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tuna, pollock, rockfish and sole on the seafood side.
The specialty grocer noted that its minimum standards for all fresh and frozen meat include humane raising requirements, no hormones, no growth-promoting drugs, no antibiotics and no land animal by-products, as well as non-GMO feed preferred. For seafood, the retailer said it stocks only third-party certified sustainable options, including wild-caught fish, scallops and organically farmed shrimp.
"Our standards ensure that all of our meat is naturally and humanely raised and our seafood is sustainably sourced, which we believe is the best for our customers, the animals and our environment," Natural Grocers Co-President Kemper Isely said in a statement. "We also believe our customers appreciate that we make this incredible quality and variety affordable."
To provide more transparency and shopping convenience, Natural Grocers has implemented a bronze, silver and gold ranking program for meat and seafood products. The retailer said the system is “based on criteria that matter to consumers” and gives customers product information that’s “often lacking in label claims.”
Bronze-ranked meat or seafood is sustainably farmed; humanely raised; isn’t from cloned or genetically modified animals; and has no antibiotics, hormones or growth catalysts, or animal by-products. Items classified as Silver meet all of the Bronze criteria plus non-GMO feed and alfalfa (ruminants), no synthetic colorants (seafood), free-range (poultry), 100% grass-fed and/or certified organic (ruminants, seafood) and sustainably sourced (seafood) requirements.
Gold-designated products meet Bronze and Silver criteria as well as certified organic and/or other regenerative farming practice (beef, poultry, pork), 100% U.S. domestic (ruminants, poultry, pork), and wild-caught and sustainably certified (seafood, boar) standards.
Natural Grocers said its Bronze ranking would likely match the highest standard found at other grocery stores and farmers' markets, while the Silver and Gold designation focus on “bold regenerative farming practices that safeguard a healthy planet for future generations.”
"The unique thing we've done is create real transparency and information about animal product labels so that customers can better understand and, more importantly, trust the food they're buying and eating is really what it claims to be," according to Heather Isely, executive vice president for Natural Grocers, which specializes in organic and natural groceries, body care products and dietary supplements.
To see what attributes that a meat or seafood product carries, shoppers look at the "Our Standards" chart on the meat and seafood Department doors, Natural Grocers said, adding that “years of complex information” went into the development of its ranking system. The retailer pointed out that the rankings give customers a lot of information about an item in a few seconds.
"There are so many loopholes in each animal species industry, and we've done our best to bring light to those areas of confusion and provide information that is usable at the point of purchase,” Heather Isley commented. “Often there is a disconnect on how food gets from the farm to the table, and we want to help bridge that information gap."