The number of natural-food supermarkets is growing, and nowhere is that more evident than on the West Coast.
SN recently visited southern California and sampled some retailing formats: units in two three-store independents; a unit in the Wild Oats chain; and a Pavilion's unit in an upscale neighborhood.
MOTHER'S MARKET & KITCHEN
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Mother's Market & Kitchen here is a full-service supermarket with a wide range of items merchandised in 15,000 square feet of well-designed space.
A lot of emphasis is put on creating a pleasant shopping environment. For example, a high wooden ceiling in the central portion of the store and many wooden fixtures used throughout the unit -- together with bright lighting -- create a warm but energetic ambience. The grocery aisles, islands and endcaps are well stocked, with sale items prominently displayed and labeled.
The store is accessible from both the front and back. Four cash registers are stationed toward the front of the store. Also in the front is a bulk food and baking section, which runs into the produce section.
The bulk and baking items are merchandised both against the wall and on freestanding endcap units and islands. In the bulk area is a great variety of both loose and packaged products, with loose items alone accounting for 250 stockkeeping units.
Customers can choose any number of flours and whole grains, extracts, sweeteners, cake and muffin mixes, soup mixes, beans, pastas, rices and trail mixes. Also available are vegetable protein mixes, muesli, seeds, nuts, candies and dried fruits.
In this section are "Organic Coffees of the World," both bulk and packaged. Baking items occupy 10 feet, five shelves deep. Dog and cat food supplies are merchandised at the end of the section, after the baking supplies.
Not far from the registers is a large endcap signed "Grocery Specials." Some of the items on special during SN's visit, either here or in other parts of the store, included different varieties of Shari's organic refried beans, 15-ounce cans for $1.19; Muir Glen tomatoes, 28 ounces for $1.49; Arrowhead all-natural soups, 15 ounces for $1.29; Lundberg organic brown rice, 2 pounds for 1.89; and Arrowhead Peanut Butter, 18 ounces for 2.99.
At the back of the store is a narrower aisle of frozen and refrigerated doors -- 16 on either side. Two doors are given to refrigerated water, and 11 are devoted to frozen food. Some frozen bunkers are also used. Mother's has a wide selection of natural and organic frozen vegetables, dinners, entrees, ice creams and desserts.
The central portion of the store contains the dry grocery section, which is ranged horizontally in freestanding aisles, and vertically, with the use of tall grocery shelves set against the walls on both sides. Mother's carries many kinds of juices, both organic and nonorganic, as well as natural carbonated sodas, juice boxes, soy and rice milks, and other alternative beverages.
Herb teas alone occupy 20 running feet. They are located near an alcove set up as a store-within-a-store. The "Vitamin Store," which includes herbs, extracts and supplements as well as vitamins, is about 2,000 square feet.
A separate section is labeled "macrobiotic foods," where "burger" mixes, soup cups, pasta cups and side dishes can be found, along with tamari and other condiments, tofu, seaweed, sesame seeds, aduki beans, ramen, rice noodles and crackers.
On the other side of this section are hot cereals, soup and meal cups, boxed rice mixes and bean and grain mixes.
In the next aisle pastas and tomato sauces are merchandised together, next to no-salt soups and beans. There are many organic selections.
The grocery aisles continue with more canned soups, beans and pastas; chili mixes; liquid aminos; polenta; oils and other condiments; sweeteners; jams and nut butters; chips, salsas and dips; cookies and crackers; and so forth.
The store allocates a lot of space to ready-to-eat cereals. The section, set against the wall, is 14 feet by 7 shelves. Also here are some flours and pancake mixes and, nearby, some cereal bars, granola and puffed wheat.
This store is one of three independently owned supermarkets. The other two units are in Irvine and Huntington Beach, Calif.
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Farmers Market here shows how "gourmet" and "natural" can make an ideal marriage.
The unit's front end opens on the food court of an upscale shopping mall. As a customer comes into the store from the mall, she is greeted by the sights and smells of the food counters serving prepared deli and grilled items, seafood, meats, breads and other bakery products, cheeses and so forth.
Islands and floor displays are used to merchandise such items as fancy boxed nuts, liquor, bread spread, flavored oils, gourmet cookies, dried chilies, gourmet popcorn, dried packaged mushrooms and jarred fruits and condiments.
At the back portion of the store, where another entrance leads directly outside, are seven grocery aisles, each about 20 feet long, and each with two endcaps.
Farmers Market manages to merchandise together an interesting and fairly diverse blend of gourmet, imported, natural and mainstream products and brands in the grocery section.
In one aisle are chips and dips are merchandised together, including Farmers Market salsa and Guiltless Gourmet and Kettle chips. Also here are Hain rice cakes and organic popcorn, along with other brands of popcorn and chips.
The next aisle stocks gourmet crackers and imported cheeses, as well as domestic crackers and cookies -- for example, Westbrae Natural cookies and Nabisco's SnackWell's.
Vinegars, olive oils, salad dressings and gourmet condiments are merchandised together. In another aisle are sugars, flour, rice and grains, jams and jellies, and cereals. Nearby endcaps hold salad dressings and seasonings, jarred olives, mushrooms, green tomatoes and dessert toppings.
An endcap is used to merchandise an all-natural and salt-free line of spices, called Morton & Bassett, based in San Francisco. Farmers Market brand of spices in small plastic bags is on another rack.
Pasta and pasta sauces are in aisle and on an endcap. Many of the pastas are imported Italian brands. Sauces include domestic organic brands, like Muir Glen, upscale brands like Sutter Home, and mainstream brands like Classico. Classico pasta sauces were on sale, 26-ounce jars for $4.29.
The store stocks Arrowhead Mills flours and mixes, Ivy Cottage Scone Mix, Rocco's Pizza Dough, Bisquick and Betty Crocker bread mixes and Progresso Bread Crumbs, all in the same aisle. Also here are Near East, Knorr and Lundberg rices, Fantastic Foods boxed grains and mixes, sugars, Crisco, and Ghirardelli chocolate.
Farmers Market stocked very few frozen items. They included some vegetables, juices, pizza, ice, ice cream, fillo pastry shells and TV dinners, in a couple of doors.
The store did not carry any household cleaners, paper products or similar supplies, nor general merchandise or health and beauty care lines.
Farmers Market has two other units, in Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
WILD OATS COMMUNITY MARKETS
LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. -- Wild Oats Community Markets provides a quality shopping environment as well as a full spectrum of supermarket items in a 12,000-square-foot unit here, which is smaller than average for this natural-food chain.
The unit's bulk and bagged department is set against the back wall, with grocery aisles, about 28 feet long, running perpendicular to the wall. On the wall adjacent to the bulk section are the frozen and dairy sections.
The bulk items are impeccably displayed in wooden fixtures, in squeaky clean bins and in bags. Bulk items include dried fruits, rices, chili mixes, grains, seeds, raisins, nuts and dried veggie snacks. Altogether there are about 85 SKUs of bulk in bins alone.
Wild Oats devotes 10 doors to frozen food, with an additional five doors given to ice cream and frozen desserts from Cascadian Farm, Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, Starbucks and Rice Dream.
Frozen food includes pizza, Italian pasta entrees, veggie burgers and other meat amalgams, Mexican and other ethnic meals, pot pies, bagels and vegetables. There is a full array of Amy's and Cascadian Farm products, along with items from Taj, Cedarlane and Natural Touch.
An extensive health and beauty care section is also perpendicular to grocery, on the other side of the grocery aisles. This creates a neat and organized distinction between the two areas. In front of HBC is the produce department and the deli department, which is located in the front of the store.
Endcaps on the grocery aisle facing HBC had a number of "Manager's Specials" during SN's visit, including Nathan's Coney Island mustard, 16 ounces for $2.29; Fantastic Food Chile and Nature's Burger box mixes for 99 cents; Celestial Seasoning green tea, 20-count for $1.69; and McCann's oatmeal, a 28-ounce box for $6.39.
There were also floor displays with advertised specials: Balance Bars for 99 cents each; Soya King soy chips, $1.99 for a 6-ounce bag; Little Bear corn chips in several flavors, two bags for $3; and cases of Rice Dream, 12 cartons of regular flavor on sale for $15 and flavored varieties for $16.
Coffee in bulk and bagged varieties, mostly organic, is merchandised on an endcap, as are Frontier bulk herbs.
A refrigerated endcap holds some teas and juices, including Wild Oats tea, and bottled water from Evian, Odwalla, Fiji, Volvic, Pelligrino and Stonewall. Some wine, beer, sodas and juices are also in refrigerated doors.
Bulk water in 2- and 3-gallon containers is also sold in another part of the store.
Wild Oats has a good selection of wine, with a 4-foot rack of organic choices, and about 40 SKUs of other wines. In addition to California varieties, there are wines from France, Chili, Bulgaria and Argentina.
Wild Oats, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., has 10 stores in California.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Pavilion here devotes an entire aisle to natural food, vitamins and "sports nutrition," and is an example of how a large chain like Safeway can tailor an individual store to fit neighborhood demographics.
Located in an exclusive suburb of Los Angeles, this store caters to upscale shoppers who are interested only in particular segments of the larger umbrella of "natural food."
The aisle sign reads: Apple Juice, Non-Alcoholic Juice, Chocolate Drinks, Bottled Juice, Vitamins, Health Foods, Organic Foods and Rice Cakes.
A great deal of space is devoted to juices, in bottles, cans and aseptic packs. Knudsen juices, L&A juices and Meier's non-alcoholic grape juice are some brands on the shelf. The entire juice section is merchandised in about 36 feet of space.
The store also stocks 6 feet of vegetable juices and 4 feet of nectars and smoothies. New items, like V-8 Splash, are flagged.
Canned fruits occupy another 12 feet of space, with apple sauces and fruit cups adding 6 more feet.
Rice cakes from Gift of Nature, Vons, Quaker and Orville Redenbacher occupy 8 feet of space, while chips and popcorn from Bearito, Kettle, Barbara's and Childer's fill an additional 4 feet of space.
A number of categories are in 4-foot sections: Cookies, crackers and cereal bars; cereals; milk alternatives; soups, soup cups and box meals; pastas and sauces; rice and grain boxed mixes; and energy bars. Healthy Valley Cereals, along with Mother's and Breadshops, are some of the brands in the cereal section. A shelf of Traditional Medicinals teas is merchandised above the breakfast food.
Herbs and vitamins are merchandised in 8 feet of space, as are medically directed and diet products. In this section are items like Pritikin soups, Estee snacks, Weight Watchers cookies and popcorn, Panda licorice, 50/50 snacks and cooking spray.