Fairfield grocers study health trends
Chia seeds. Coconut water. Green coffee beans. Quinoa. Fairfield’s health food grocers spend their days stocking, researching and living amidst items many have never heard of let alone tried.
At Fairfield Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store, health market manager Abbey Bogner said she learns about new health trends on a daily basis through her suggestion box, stationed by the bulk section.
“Anything featured in Dr. Oz goes in the box,” she said.
Across town at Everybody’s Whole Foods, bulk buyer Paul Myers noticed as much.
“When Dr. Oz recommends something, people come running in here to buy it,” he said.
Fairfield’s grocers have carved out a market in the health food arena, working hard to stay abreast of the ever-changing needs of the community.
While Everybody’s has been a familiar face in the community for more than 15 years, Hy-Vee’s health market blossomed from one shelf in the previous store to an entire section when Hy-Vee moved to its new location in April 2011.
“It’s kind of like a grocery store within a grocery store,” said Bogner. “Since we are right off of the produce section, it’s a one-stop shop, we have everything you need.”
Bogner has worked at Hy-Vee for more than eight years. When the new store opened and the health market manager position became available, she decided to apply.
“I thought it would be interesting — something new,” she said. In order to educate herself about health trends, Bogner said she reads materials from Hy-Vee suppliers, such as United Natural Foods. However, her main source is the suggestion box, where she said customers leave notes for her.
“It is a huge part of how to stay updated in health world,” she said. “I thought suggestions would slow down after the store opened, but it hasn’t.”
Suggestions have helped her get rid of items she called “slow movers” and replace their shelf space with in-demand items like coconut water, chia seeds and a variety of grains and cereals in the bulk section.
“Anything coconut is huge,” she said, “It’s a big trend.”
While such items are the latest hot trends, the dairy section has seen the health market’s highest sales, thanks in large to Radiance Dairy milk, from a local farm.
Organic and local are two categories Bogner focuses heavily on.
Aside from Radiance Dairy, she buys the local beverage Shaktea Kombucha, local honey and items made in the Amana Colonies. Buying organic as well as local has helped capture an even larger market, she said.
“Anything we can get organic, we try to,” she said. “We stock both natural and organic and let people decide, it can get political.”
Everybody’s takes a slightly different approach when it comes to stocking its store. Myers said they take requests, but will only stock items they believe to meet certain health standards.
“A lot of people will request items, and we look at levels and see if it fits within our parameters,” she said.
If an item contains high fructose corn syrup for instance, Everybody’s won’t buy it.
Myers, who’s worked in the store seven years, said the fastest growing market of late is gluten free products.
“When I started here, it was the tip of iceberg, now it’s full blown,” he said. “Now we have a special labeling system if it is gluten free or wheat free.”
Myers foresees the next biggest trend in labeling will be labeling for genetically modified foods.
Bogner’s favorite part of the job is interacting with customers. She said it’s also the best way to learn the wants and needs of the community. She also enjoys sampling new products as they enter the store. “We try everything so we can recommend it properly,” she said.
Bogner has discovered a fondness for Blue Diamond products and healthy cereals, saying, “I’ve changed my shopping habits a bit.”
It’s not unusual for Hy-Vee to have a health market like Fairfield’s according to Bogner.
“Hy-Vee is having a big push toward health markets and a bigger bulk market,” she said.
Recently she visited Urbandale’s Hy-Vee, which she said had the largest health market she’d seen.
Bogner said there’s no plans for expansion imminent, but said the popularity of the section hasn’t disappointed.
“We knew it would be popular, and it’s been good for us,” she said. “It’s up to customers where it goes next.”