INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Sales of natural and organic food in mainstream supermarkets such as Kroger have doubled in recent years, the Indianapolis Star reports.
"Used to be this was all very faddish," said Gregg Proctor, head of natural foods for Kroger's central division. "Not anymore. We're adding new items constantly because if we don't get it when it comes out, our competition will."
Supermarkets are stocking their shelves with pure food offerings and even launching their own brands, as sales in this grocery segment are outpacing traditional grocery item sales.
Nationwide, natural and organic food sales increased 8% in 2010, following increases of roughly 5% each year from 2005 to 2009. Meanwhile, total sales of U.S. food grew less than 1% in 2010, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
The increased popularity of pure foods has produced a downward price shift, which bodes well for consumers.
"Make no mistake, there is a definite price differential," said Meg Major, editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer. "But as that once small segment is growing bigger and bigger, it's not only raised awareness but affordability."
Over the past four years, Kroger has doubled its natural foods division and launched Nature€™s Markets at 1,300 of its 2,500 stores, a store within the store that is devoted solely to natural foods.
Whereas specialty food stores used to be the main destinations for purchasing natural foods, conventional retailers have surpassed them in popularity and accounted for 54% of organic food sales in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association.
"It's part of that continuing strategy to build [customer] loyalty and points of differences," Major said. "Stores can offer these signature products that can only be had there, and customers come back to get it."
Meijer launched its own line of natural foods in 2009, a line that includes no genetically modified organisms, no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, no added hydrogenated oils or trans fats, and no artificial food coloring, flavoring or preservatives. It also has a store-branded organic line.
"Both continue to grow, both in customer demand and in terms of sales," said spokesman Frank Guglielmi. "We continue to invest and expand in those categories as Meijer customers continue to ask for more in those categories."
Target offers national brands and its own natural brands, Archer Farms and Market Pantry, the latter with more than 200 products.
In the next year, Kroger plans to triple its natural food offerings in its Simple Truth line.
"By then we will have hundreds of products to offer," Proctor said. "We want to become the leader, period."