No Coke. No Pepsi. The proliferation of organic grocery and natural-foods stores can almost be summed up by what they don’t offer — including the country’s two most popular beverage choices.
"The organic grocery store has grown at a much faster pace than the traditional supermarkets have for the last 10 years," says Kevin Easler, vice president of marketing for Sprouts Farmers Markets. "If you look at the demographic profile, it’s really the aging baby boomers who are driving the demand for alternatives to Coke and Pepsi and all those things. Because they are getting older and looking to take better care of themselves now."
In less than three years, a single Sprouts store in Chandler has expanded to 13 stores in three states. That number will have almost doubled again by the end of next year, Easler says. In about the same time a single Sunflower Market has grown to 10 stores in four states. Another Sunflower will open this fall in Las Vegas, says Bob Millsap, senior director of operations and marketing.
"Whereas Whole Foods is more of an organic or natural produce store, 90 percent of our produce comes from conventional sources," says Millsap.
Colein Whicher, director of marketing, says Sunflower stores are a "bridge" between conventional supermarkets and those selling primarily organic or natural foods.
"I guess I would say we are looking for transitional customers . . . who are venturing into organic food but were scared off by the sticker price," Whicher says.
Include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, Henry’s Marketplace and various smaller health food markets, and the number of alternative grocery stores seems to rival that of conventional counterparts.
Beyond offering different products, the stores distinguish themselves from the average supermarket in looks, layouts and atmosphere. Some have lower shelves, so the store looks more open. Produce bins often take prime locations. Many items, such as olives or granola, are offered in bulk.
Paul Fleming, vice president of marketing and business development for Martori Farms, whose fields in Arizona and California produce many of the melons sold in Valley grocery stores, says the company is converting more crops into organic produce, which means they’re grown without pesticides or fertilizers.
"What we do as a supplier is respond to what our customers are asking for. So, we are seeing a growth at least in some areas of either organic or natural-type foods," Fleming says.
Organic product sales overall grew about 20 percent between 1998 and 2003, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
Martori Farms, which supplies watermelon, canteloupe, honeydew and specialty melons to conventional and organic markets, has a number of acres that have never been farmed before. That means the land can be converted easily for certified organic farming under the federal guideline established in 2002, Fleming says. The number of acres will depend on consumer demand, he says.
Easler says there is growing demand for organic food. But the reason people are filling his stores — "I think more of it is just a healthier alternative," he says.