COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Fortune seekers once flocked to the mountains west of Denver in search of riches, but today's local retailers have discovered the gold: natural and organic foods.
Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market opened its first store in this health-minded town this year, after Wild Oats Natural Marketplace of Boulder opened its second. A number of small, independent, natural food stores also chases the natural food dollar.
Conventional retailers might be counted out of this competition, but that's far from true. Indeed, King Soopers here has taken a strong naturals and organics position at its West Uintah Street store. It's not the chain's newest or biggest unit, but it has nonetheless carved out a reputation with the area's health-conscious shoppers.
The Kroger banner, based in Denver, already has a big presence in the area: Its Web site lists five stores in the city, including the West Uintah property in historic Old Colorado City. More than 40% of adults shopped the store in the past week, making it Colorado Springs' third-largest food retailer by penetration after Wal-Mart Stores and Safeway, according to a recent poll by International Demographics, Houston.
One shopper perusing the organic dairy section said she prefers King Soopers over a nearby health food store, where she said products' availability can vary. "They have a lot," she said of Soopers, "but you have to look for it."
While natural foods are integrated in their respective categories, they're identified by "Sooper Naturals" shelf signs and green-and-white, checkerboard-patterned shelving. Naturals sections typically lead off the aisle. A recent store visit by SN found these sections contained a mix of natural- and organic-labeled products, as well as wheat- and gluten-free items.
Low-carb items also abounded, especially in bakery and cereal. Shelf tags identified various salad dressings and cereal bars as "Great for the low-carb lifestyle," and low-carb energy bars were heavily displayed.
SN found extensive selections in fast-growing natural and organic categories like bread, cereal, juice, cereal and nutrition bars, tea and produce.
Three shelves of natural pastas included products from Westbrae Natural and Eddie's Organic Spaghetti; two shelves of juice included Walnut Acres blueberry and cherry juices, and vegetable and orange ginger juices from Kagome. Kashi, Health Valley, Heartland and Cascadian Farms brands were well represented in the three shelves of breakfast cereal and bars. A wide selection of Health Valley cereal bars included such flavors as cinnamon danish and chocolate espresso.
Small and local brands were available along with national brands. Natural sodas included Blue Sky Organic sodas, Hansen's Natural Soda and Izze sparkling juice, a Boulder company. Specialty pasta brands included Hodgson Mills and Mrs. Leeper's, maker of organic and gluten-free pastas. In the bakery, Rudi's Organic Bakery of Boulder, maker of certified organic breads, had a stand-alone wooden shelf holding whole-wheat buns and low-carb bread. The shelf, however, was nearly empty when SN visited.
Most of the naturals sections were well stocked, with the exception of dairy. Natural products were lightly promoted, except for nutrition bars, where there were 10 for $10 and buy-one, get-one free sales on several varieties. In bakery, there were markdowns on some Tortilla Factory tortillas and BOGOs on others. That week's ad listed PowerBar and Snickers energy bars and Amy's burritos in its "Optimum Wellness" section for $1 each for loyalty card holders. A shelf sign in the juice section directed shoppers to 9News.com, the local NBC affiliate, which listed other natural and organic items on sale at the store, along with recipes and health-related stories.
Cross merchandising and secondary displays of natural products were common throughout the store. A Frito-Lay display of organic chips and organic salsa stood in front of the yogurt case. Naked Food-Juice had its own cooler at the end of the bagged salad section in produce. Nutrition bars, in addition to aisle displays, had numerous secondary intercepts, in the water and the carbonated beverage aisles and at the end of the soup aisle.
Organic fruits and vegetables were prominently displayed together in the center of the produce department. Prices of organic produce have come down in some cases and are competitively priced. Here, eight-, 10- and 12-ounce bags of organic salad greens were priced the same as their conventional counterparts, at $3.29.