DALLAS — Retailers trying to achieve authenticity and credibility with consumers must develop their own programs, but they must also listen to consumers and reflect the changes they demand, the chief operating officer of Sunflower Farmers Markets, Boulder, Colo., said here last week.
“Take charge — don't just follow,” Chris Sherell advised. “But you also need to be willing to listen to consumers to build authenticity and credibility, which means you need to be flexible and to change as they indicate a need for change.”
Sherell made his remarks during a workshop that was part of the inaugural meeting of the Healthy Foods International Exposition and Conference, co-sponsored by SN and New Hope Natural Media, both divisions of Penton Media, New York.
Sunflower operates 15 stores in five Southwestern states and plans to open at least 10 more locations, Sherell said.
Sunflower's goal is “to offer natural foods to the masses at reasonable prices,” he explained. In doing so, the chain attempts to build authenticity and credibility though several practices, he said.
For example, Sunflower offers a welcoming atmosphere that attempts to eliminate the intimidation of transitional shoppers who are moving from conventional products to organics, he explained, citing the use of low-profile shelving to ease navigation, warm colors, simple merchandising and everyday low pricing.
About 50% of the products carried are conventional merchandise, which is displayed alongside organic alternatives, Sherell told SN; however, 95% of sales in grocery and most perishables categories are done in organics, as are 40% of produce sales, he indicated.
Sunflower distributes 1.5 million fliers a week “to show how authentic we are, and to let consumers compare our offers to those of conventional supermarkets.”
Sunflower also supports the communities around its stores by buying from local producers. “Before we open a store, we send a team in to determine what the leading local products are. And if we miss something, we hear about it and correct it.”
It also supports the environment by giving away 10,000 reusable shopping bags at each store opening; using natural lighting and other “green” design elements; providing special parking for hybrid cars; and switching to 98% recycled material for its plastic bags.
During the same workshop, Thom Blischock, president of Information Resources Inc., Chicago, played a series of interviews filmed at two health food supermarkets in Atlanta — Rainbow Natural Foods and Sevananda Natural Foods Market — whose shoppers praised the stores for being “real”; for selling products that are produced locally; for selling products without chemical additives; for caring about the products they sell and the customers they serve; and for offering a peaceful haven, Blischock said.
He praised several chains for efforts to achieve authenticity of their own, including Tesco, for putting carbon-reduction labels on 20 products in its U.K. stores to show its commitment to the environment “and present a marvelous way to educate consumers”; Bloom, for reducing the checkout process to 33 seconds by letting shoppers scan merchandise as they put it in their carts; and Whole Foods Market, for helping to bring natural and organic products into the mainstream.
Authenticity will become increasingly relevant as the economy continues to decline, Blischock added, predicting the possibility by next year of gas at $6 a gallon; turkey exceeding $9 a pound; milk topping $5.50 a gallon; sales of snack foods dropping 15% as consumers look for ways to conserve their money; and shopping trips done monthly instead of weekly.
He also predicted that consumers, who currently shop at five primary stores on average, will be shopping at eight stores by 2010.
“With gas prices rising and the cost of heating oil up next winter, a person making $55,000 a year will have to be earning $58,000 at the end of the year just to stay even,” Blischock said.
“People will be trying to figure out what they can afford to put in their baskets, and the definition of essential vs. non-essential could change — a form of grocery hedging that we haven't seen before.
“And for low-income shoppers who can't afford groceries, the idea of shopping for health and wellness is something they may simply not be able to afford.”