By Robert U. Craven, FoodState CEO

It’s my job to ensure that everybody on my team knows why our organization exists: to improve lives and inspire others to do the same.

Yes, we work with farmers and producers around the country to get nutritious ingredients for our whole food supplements. Yes, we manufacture our supplements in our GMP-certified facilities in New Hampshire; and yes, we market and sell our products nationally to you, our retail partners. This is what we do.

In the coming year, I resolve to up my game on communicating the WHY we do it.

How about you?

Now, more than ever, we need to consistently explain “the why”  to our customers,  stakeholders and especially our staff. Yes, the floors must be swept, the shelves stocked, the aisles manned, the Facebook page updated with the latest promo and the hundred other details of opening your doors to your public each day checked off.

But in the final analysis, your prosperity in 2017 will depend on the case you make, day in and day out, for why you do what you do and why people should shop your store rather than in another and, dare we say, perhaps more convenient way.

I believe the coming year will be a watershed for our industry and natural retailers will confront and overcome several essential realities:

  1.     Independents aren’t the only game in town anymore. For years, natural retailers owned the space. They competed for customers who generally shopped at a particular store, and that was that. In the age of the ubiquitous customer, health food stores must realize they now must co-exist with numerous channels. Brands must find ways to serve a multi-channel shopper while continuing to support natural retail – where lives are more readily improved.
  2.     While health food stores are no longer the only game in town, they remain the best game in town. I can’t think of any other places people can go to find the trust, knowledge and high level of personal attention these stores provide. But the broader public, who are flocking to natural products via all channels, need to be made aware of where to go for the best of the best. It’s up to health food stores and the brands that support them to beat that drum!
  3.     The more of us who beat the drum together, the louder and clearer the message will be. But this means health food stores must search for ways to overcome the natural isolation of running their businesses and recognize the need to be part of a solution/movement/tribe that’s broader than their plan for their stores. I prefer the concept of “tribe” as it implies shared passion and values.

Our tribe

Tribal identity works at two levels. First is the industry level where we find ways to articulate who we are and what we do – our core differentiators ; such as offering meaningful partnerships with community organizations, value-added shopping experiences rooted in an integrated approach to wellness education and mission-driven business practices that respect people and environment.

The second level involves taking this tribal lore and applying it at the local level of your store and community – it is key to elevate your staff’s language. Every store is unique, just as every community in which it operates is unique. But all health food stores share a common commitment to certain business practices and values that distinguish them from other channels.

Take the act of selling, for example. There can be a stigma around selling people things in a space that places the highest value on education. But the truth is you can’t improve a life without a customer buying a product. Accepting this fact changes the equation from staff “selling them” to staff “helping them” improve their life.

It’s far from a simple matter of semantics. Selling things that are good for people and the environment and the community makes a positive impact all around.

Perhaps 2017 will be the year in which natural retail discovers its tribal identity as the leaders in community wellness. A good place to start would be Natural Products Expo West, March 8 – 12 in Anaheim. This year’s event offers an amazing amount of incredibly fun stuff, but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in a national conversation about your tribe’s future.

If you attend, stop by the MegaFood Booth #1715 and tell us how we can help support you as the center or health and wellness in your community. We look forward to seeing you there!