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Vegetarian Journal July/Aug 1998

Note from the Coordinators

State of the Natural Foods Industry

Debra Wasserman
Charles Stahler
The Vegetarian Resource Group once again had a booth at the Natural Products Expo West held in Anaheim, CA. This year there were over 28,000 attendees. One could walk the crowded floors of this show and see that the natural foods industry is maturing and steadily growing both nationally and globally. In fact, for the first time, a group of Russian entrepreneurs was present. The Russians came under a trade program funded by Congress.

As one might expect, sales in the natural foods arena continue to climb (although this growth began to stabilize a bit during 1997). Changes in the industry continue to occur primarily due to consumer demand. For example, organics is now a fast-growing sector, doubling about every 2 1/2 years. Approximately 45% of American households are now interested in organic products.

Representatives of both Wild Oats Community Markets and Whole Foods point out that customer service and education are keys to their success. Both felt that mainstream supermarkets still have not made a serious investment in this area. Product selection is growing in these natural foods supermarkets, including a wider variety of organic produce items. A greater number of freshly prepared foods that can replace whole meals made at home is also being offered. Premium private labeling is also becoming popular. Whole Foods now offers lower priced items under their 365 label.

In general, one can say that natural products have gone mainstream (although obviously not reaching all communities). The quality of products continues to improve and we can expect tremendous growth in this industry. For many baby boomers, concerns about health are a driving force for bringing them to this industry. These individuals refuse to grow old! As for some of our youth, they have been raised as recyclers, are well aware of environmental and animal rights issues, and natural foods are a way of life for them. As a result, people of all ages are interested in natural foods. These shoppers are looking for fairly-priced items, convenience, availability, and quality.

Readers who have school-age children should know that both Wild Oats Community Markets and Whole Foods stores nationwide offer tours of their supermarkets to young children. Although the guided tour and discussion may not be completely vegetarian (after all, organic meat and fish are sold at these stores), students are exposed to the positive aspects of vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as organics. We had the opportunity to see one such program in action at the Baltimore-based Fresh Fields/Whole Foods store. We were glad to hear the presenter speak highly of vegetarian foods and even happier to find out how many inner city kids know what a vegetarian diet is. Local natural foods co-ops and health foods stores would also be good places for teachers to take students on field trips. These stores are certainly encouraging youngsters to eat more natural foods products!

Debra Wasserman & Charles Stahler
Coordinators of The Vegetarian Resource Group


Excerpts from the Jul/Aug Issue:

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

This article was converted to HTML by Jeanie Freeman

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