NEW YORK -- Wild Oats is nearing the end of a long road back.
"Our senior management team has been together for a little more than three years, and in that time we've gone from an entrepreneurial company that stumbled, to the cusp of coming out of a long turnaround," said Perry Odak, chief executive officer of the Boulder, Colo.-based natural foods retailer, speaking at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference here last week.
Odak said Wild Oats Markets' efforts to build private-label awareness, invest in information technology, approach real estate differently and address merchandising and product selection in its stores have positioned the company to benefit from what Odak called a "huge opportunity" in the $44 billion natural/organic field.
"Our biggest competitor is a lack of awareness," said Odak, who noted a recent announcement that the retailer would no longer sell eggs from caged chickens generates the kind of news buzz about healthier eating that helps to introduce shoppers to the chain. (Recent criticism of the cage-free announcement suggesting that uncaged birds were more vulnerable to disease and predators "couldn't have been any more ridiculous," Odak added.)
"We want the customer who wakes up one day and says, 'I want to eat healthier,"' Odak said. Keeping such shoppers in the store has meant Wild Oats has needed to adjust its product standards and pricing t0 appeal to new adapters.
"Until they understand the price-value relationship, they tend to have sticker-shock," Odak said, "So we have had to have friendlier opening price points on some items."
The product standards were loosened in some cases to appeal to more "foodies" and gourmet shoppers, he added. Wild Oats is planning to revamp its approach to prepared meals by year-end, adding more grab-and-go, center-plate and gourmet items that will emphasize great taste over the ingredients.