Many conventional retailers involved in health and wellness merchandising like to gather natural and organic selections in a boutique department to better showcase their marketing prowess, particularly if they're an upmarket operator.
But don't tell that to Top Food & Drug, a value-oriented chain focused on low prices. Here, whole health gets the same upscale treatment usually reserved for more specialized formats.
The 29-unit operator in Washington and Oregon includes the banners of Haggen Food & Pharmacy, a decidedly high-service retailer; and Top, Haggen's low price-focused, warehouse-style counterpart. Headquartered in Bellingham, Wash., Haggen is the largest independent grocer in the state.
Though the two formats are notably different in their approach to the markets they serve, it appears company executives have taken a lesson learned from the mainline Haggen units, where service perishable departments, expansive wine areas, in-unit cafes, floral and pharmacy each serve as a destination. Sharing the expertise between both formats enables the operator to apply the same micro-experiences to the Top Food & Drug mega-store format. The result is Natural Selections, Top's health and wellness department.
Natural Selections is located adjacent to the checkstands between the grocery department and wine section, and in front of frozen foods. Wood grain-style flooring distinguishes the four-gondola section, featuring three dedicated aisles running 20 linear feet, plus a refrigerated multi-deck merchandiser and a multi-door frozen section.
It is within this department that traditional grocery merchandising flair is coupled with healthful choices. Displays reflect the price promotion strategy Top Food & Drug is noted for, with in-aisle shelf tags spotlighting items that have additional savings attached to them when purchased with a frequent shopper card.
Endcaps are also used to tout price reductions and special savings on promoted natural and organic selections - while spurring cross-merchandising sales opportunities. Across the aisle from the front end during a recent visit by WH, summertime favorites were showcased: tortilla chips, salsa, soft drinks and ready-to-eat cold cereals. The back-side endcaps held a stationary Odwalla-branded beverage cooler with ready-to-drink, fruit-based selections, many with a strong nutrition orientation. Another stationary endcap served as a health information station, complete with a touchscreen and reference materials for curious consumers, offering specific nutritional information and remedies plus health-oriented and diet-based books for sale.
Within the store's footprint, the positioning and merchandising of the Natural Selections department is designed to be as open and accessible to consumers, many of whom might not necessarily be seeking healthful alternatives.
The front half of the department's lead aisle is stocked with snacks, and directly opposite the conventional grocery section, inviting shoppers to browse about this whole-food oasis. Those lingering at the front end can look into the aisle itself, as well as an endcap assortment of offerings.
This positioning is perhaps intentional, and represents the biggest straight-on challenge Haggen executives have taken on in fighting the higher-priced image many value-minded shoppers have of healthful products.
Traditional-style gondola signage further punctuates the notion that conventionally oriented shoppers can find options in the natural assortment. Coupled with the grocery shelving, the overall effect makes any shopper at home in the Natural Selections area.
Once in the center of the Natural Selections area, a wide selection of natural and organic products dazzles the eye. Beyond the expected energy bars, cookies, crackers, vitamins, herbal remedies, HBC and homeopathic items, Top's assortment runs deep. Included in the grouping are baking ingredients, condiments, pasta, soup, oils and vinegars. Additionally, a 58-bin bulk section further deepens the assortment to include spices, flours, grains, rice, beans and snacks.
In the frozen and refrigerated sections of the Natural Selections area, shoppers are greeted with six full doors of frozen offerings. Prepared foods, frozen novelties, vegetables and fruits are all available. A 12-foot, multi-deck case with a well showcases refrigerated items ranging from organic milk, soy beverages and juices to eggs, yogurt, tofu, and meat and diary analogs. An adjacent 16 linear feet of beverages, merchandised on a dry grocery multi-deck, incorporates loose-leaf and bag teas alongside bottled juices and natural soft drinks.
Tops puts private label to good use as well, using it as another tool to bridge the gap between price and image. The independent retailer includes the Full Circle line from its wholesaler, Skokie, Ill.-based Topco Associates, yet another crossover opportunity between conventional grocery items and the Natural Selections department.
Jams, peanut butter and beans are double-faced within the conventional grocery aisles, as well as within the Natural Selections department itself. This strategy allows Top's to coax conventional item-leaning consumers to take a second look at organic and natural offerings.
In the salsa category, for example, shoppers can compare Full Circle selections alongside other noted natural brands like Cascadian Farm and Seeds of Change, and conventional national names.
Other Full Circle items include canned vegetables, cereals, dairy items, frozen products, rice and snacks. Handy consumer information fliers give further data about the Topco line and point out the distinctions between natural and organic.
Top Food & Drug's approach to natural and organic merchandising underscores that consumers of all spending levels can be introduced to health and wellness products and services. The staying power of this section attests to the fact that once value-seeking shoppers are aware of the offerings, as well as the narrowing price differentials, it's possible they'll make natural and organic selections a part of their weekly shopping trip.