- Nature’s Food Patch, a 30-year-old organic retailer, has opened a second location in Pinellas County, Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The grocer's expansion reflects a trend among independent specialty stores according to Lindy Bannister, a manager at the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association who told the paper that the best-performing independents are "really connected to their neighborhoods." Bannister said that these small stores are focusing on their communities and deepening their knowledge on customer demands in order to compete with major rivals such as Amazon-owned Whole Foods.
- Nature’s Food Patch features a sizeable organic portfolio, including fresh produce, grab-and-go items, non-perishables, frozen foods and packaged bulk items. Bannister said the grocer’s ability to stay ahead of organic food trends, in particular, has resonated with consumers.
- Smaller specialty chains such as Sprouts Farmers Market and Natural Grocers are also holding their own against recent Whole Foods initiatives, which is a challenge for smaller organic players operating in the same space, according to Winsight Grocery Business.
While major grocers have spent the past year ramping up their digital innovations in response to Amazon’s jump into the category, it seems that some of the smaller niche players have quietly been capturing more loyal customers.
Are Whole Foods loyalists — who have shopped at the company despite its “whole paycheck” reputation — turned off by the changes Amazon has implemented, such as the presence of Alexa-enabled products in-store or Prime Day discounts? Perhaps. Winsight Grocery Business reported that not only have Sprouts and Natural Grocers experienced no negative effects of Amazon’s Whole Foods push, but that Whole Foods itself may be losing some of its core customers as it becomes more “mainstream.”
Meanwhile, Nature’s Food Patch is thriving because it is sticking to its core identity: organic and healthy food, and strong ties to the community.
This is an interesting turn of events. The past few years have been tough on niche retailers, as big players from Kroger to Costco have stepped up their locally sourced and organic presence. For example, Costco is the nation’s largest retailer of organic food.
But to “beat out the big guys,” Bannister said independent stores had refocused on their communities after “taking a pause” when Amazon bought Whole Foods.
In addition to being connected to their communities — which seems a near impossibility for a behemoth like Amazon — specialty grocers have maintained a few other advantages in this increasingly competitive environment. They can offer a higher level of service and better product standards, and can also leverage their authority around health and sustainability as more consumers demand these value-adds.
These benefits could encourage shoppers who crave local and niche products to turn to specialty grocers to fulfill their needs — especially as Whole Foods centralized its buying system and scaled back its supply of these products under Amazon.
Independents growing by a unit or two here and there may not register strongly on Amazon’s radar, but major chains need to pay attention to the growing number of consumers who want specialty, niche products with personalized service. The challenge for these large grocers — of which small stores are taking advantage — will be how to meet those needs despite their size.