Revealed: What the public really thinks about indie health food stores

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What does the public really think about independent health food stores? It’s a question that lots of us have asked privately, or quietly amongst ourselves. Now, thanks to new independently conducted research, it’s been properly put to the test. 

The research has been funded by Viridian Nutrition, and the headline findings were revealed in a presentation by the company’s marketing director, Jo Ebdon-Muir, at this year’s Natural & Organic Products Europe (NOPEX) event.

The two-stage research programme involved a mix of store exit interviews, store manager interviews and focus groups, before moving on to a large national survey of 2,400 people and expert analysis. 

The first statistic revealed to the audience at NOPEX was a slightly sobering one: indie health store shoppers make up just 5% of the adult population. Viewed more positively, this figure shows the scale of the growth potential for indie health retailers, especially since 41% of Britons (that’s 12 million adults) have access to a local independent health store. 

The survey showed that: 

  • 72% of health food shoppers rate their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good health (vs only 56% for the national average). As well as getting knowledgeable advice and support from independent health stores, shoppers are more engaged with their health than the general population, carrying out twice as many health-related activities.
  • Millennials, who are more likely to make conscious choices aligned to their values, account for the main share of indie health customers, with the research showing 33% are aged 25-34, and 31% aged 35-44.   

Men as well as women are embracing the indie retailers, with 57% of women and 42% of men using the community resource to support their health needs.

One of the challenges for health stores flagged up by the survey is that indie shoppers are more promiscuous than we might like to think. While they buy the majority of their health food products in independent health stores, they also regularly buy from supermarkets, chain stores and online. One way to prevent this type of ‘shopper migration’, suggested Ebdon-Muir, is to limit the number of brands that are widely available in these other outlets. Another is for stores to up their game on the service and advice front.

The good news is that health stores already score well on trust. The research shows that 79% of indie shoppers value the advice they get from health stores. High numbers of indie shoppers (74%) also say that products from independent health stores offer better quality. The research shows that health stores are doing well at attracting new customers – 50% have become health store regulars in the last two years. A key aim for stores, the survey concludes, is to convert more of these shoppers into ‘super users’ (the most frequent and highest spending customers).

Other findings include: 

  • 83% visit monthly, with 1-in-5 going weekly, much more than other heath outlets such as pharmacies
  • 47% of customers have specific needs.
  • 1-in-4 of customers are vegan or vegetarian.
  • 32% shop at health stores to support mental health, 22% allergies, 21% skin conditions, 16% digestive conditions.
  • 87% shoppers take vitamins and supplements.
  • 78% aged between 25 and 55.
  • 2-in-3 have children in the household.

Following the research, Viridian has created 15 Ways to Entice More Shoppers! a practical resource to help indie retailers drive more customers into their stores to realise the benefits.

Ebdon-Muir (pictured), comments: “It’s clear from the Viridian Independent Health Store Analysis 2023 that independent health stores are key to people’s long-term wellness, by being a community resource for nutrition and lifestyle advice. Individuals that embrace indie health stores are seeing the benefits, whether it’s related to specific dietary needs, addressing a health condition or are motivated by their own ethical choices.

“We’ve always known that the independent health store is the best place for personalised advice regarding diet and nutrition. That why we want to help stores attract new customers so they can gain the benefits to healthier living.  We have collated and analysed the data to extract the top 15 ways shops can entice more customers into their health store. It outlines steps to draw in new customers and convert current store ‘users’ into ‘super-users.’”

Advice available for stores includes: 

  • Support the main health conditions with up-to-date training.
  • Review your store offering for customers with special dietary requirements.
  • Provide free literature in the form of informative booklets. 
  • Change store displays regularly.
  • Offer samples and tasters to entice shoppers into the store.

All the tips are available in an article 15 Ways to Entice More Shoppers!

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