What's natural, anyway?
e operators, and their customers, "natural" describes a class of food products made from ingredients that are as toxin-free, additive-free and as unadulterated possible.
Natural foods include organically grown produce; grocery products in environmentally friendly packaging, and hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat, poultry and seafood. Many bulk foods are also in the natural category.
The natural food products are offered in stores of either the full supermarket or smaller variety.
Stores of more than 10,000 square feet tend to be classified as supermarkets. Industry sources estimate there are fewer than 100 natural food supermarkets in the nation. The vast majority of natural food stores are of the smaller mom-and-pop variety. Nonetheless, four major natural supermarket chains have emerged. They are:
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, with 35 stores, consisting of 18 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Louisiana, northern California, Illinois and Michigan; seven Bread & Circus units in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; seven Mrs. Gooch's outlets in southern California, and three Wellspring Grocery stores in North Carolina.
Fresh Fields, Rockville, Md., with 14 stores -- eight in the Washington area, four in Chicago and two in Philadelphia.
Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., with 14 stores -- six in Colorado, three in New Mexico, two in Nevada and one each in southern California, Kansas and Missouri.