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Consumers have cut back on many purchases, but a significant percentage refuse to sacrifice their perceived health benefits. Therefore, 48 percent of consumers continue to buy the same amount or more organic food than they did before the recession. And food retailers continue to take notice.

For example, the founder of Wild Oats Market, a chain acquired by Whole Foods, has now started up Sunflower Farmers Market, a 32-store chain that claims to offer the highest quality organic food for the lowest prices. Its location strategy puts Sunflower Farmers Markets in shopping centers near other supermarkets like Kroger, or even by its close competitor Trader Joes, because its market research suggests shoppers will patronize both stores. Perhaps the reason is that Sunflower focuses on produce and meats, whereas other grocers tend to concentrate on nonperishable products.

That focus may originate at the farm—literally. Sunflower Farmers Market owns a 40-acre farm outside of Boulder, Colorado, that provides produce to local restaurants and stores. It also cites educating consumers about composting, farm animals, and how food is grown as its driving purpose.

Earth Fare, a North Carolina–based chain, also has an alternative purpose: It refuses to sell any products with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or fragrances. The company’s Web site thus hosts blogs written by health-conscious customers and the CEO, who writes as someone else living the healthy lifestyle, not just selling it.

Some modern retailers earn distinction by helping consumers lead healthier lifestyles, such as offering organic products, providing education about those products, and making them more affordable than they have been traditionally. If these healthy grocers set the standard, other supermarkets might increase their healthy selections as well, making it easier for consumers to live healthy lifestyles, but also making it more difficult for specialty retailers to differentiate themselves.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why does Sunflower Farmers Market choose to locate near other supermarkets?

Connie Robbins Gentry, “Food for Thought,” Chain Store Age, November 2010.