Saturday, December 15, 2012

Healthy Addition

Organic grocery store moving into former Borders building
Organic produce on display at the new Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage store in Missoula. | Contributed photo
The former Borders building in north Kalispell is undergoing a nearly half-million dollar remodel in preparation for a new 20,000-square-foot organic grocery store.

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, a booming nationwide retailer of organic groceries and environmental-friendly products, has announced plans to open a new location in Mountain View Plaza in April.

The site, situated between Bed Bath and Beyond and TJ Maxx, has sat vacant since September 2011 after Borders declared bankruptcy and shuttered the Kalispell bookstore and almost 400 others nationwide. Vega Architecture, based in Denver, filed a building permit last month with the city’s planning department listing $452,000 in projected site improvements.

In sharp contrast to Borders’ decline, Natural Grocers arrives on a wave of successful growth. The Colorado-based company will encompass 66 stores in 13 states by summer, including in-state locations in Missoula, Helena and Billings. Since the company went public in July, net sales have increased 28 percent in the fourth quarter, pushing the 2012 fiscal year gains over $336 million. Plans for 2013 include adding 12 more stores, including Kalispell’s, to the organic industry giant’s portfolio.

John Reynolds, assistant vice president and asset management for Retail Properties of America, Inc., which oversees Mountain View Plaza and other shopping centers nationwide, praised the arrival of Natural Grocers in a statement last month.
“Natural Grocers is an outstanding operator, and we are pleased to add a grocery component to Mountain View’s excellent lineup of diverse retailers,” Reynolds said.

So what can residents expect from this new addition?

Employment-wise, Natural Grocers typically hires roughly 20 employees, and staffing can reach 50, according to Director of Marketing Nancy Flynn. On a company-wide basis, 78 percent of store managers were promoted from within, according to Kemper Isley, Natural Grocers’ co-president.

Shoppers can expect a different experience than usual at the grocery store.

In 2009, on Earth Day, the company became the first major retailer to go completely “bag free,” meaning employees would no longer supply plastic or paper shopping bags to customers. The company made the decision in response to concerns about environmental threats related to bags. Customers are instead provided reusable bags as a substitute.

The transition saves more than six million bags a year “that our customers won’t be contributing to the environment,” Isley said in a statement in 2009.

The bold bag-free decision reflected Natural Grocers’ long-standing business model, which incorporates environmental and health awareness in several aspects.

Natural Grocers’ stores provide only organic and all-natural groceries. At the same time the stores stay away from artificial sweeteners, dairy products with artificial growth hormones and other foods and ingredients that don’t meet the company’s standards. The stores also serve to specific dietary and health needs.
The outside of a Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage store. | Contributed photo

Almost every site is also equipped with a demo kitchen and conference room, where health and cooking classes are held on a regular basis. The stores host free health and wellness seminars and provide programs and “coaches” for those trying to clean up their diet and overall health.

A corner of the stores also provides furniture for a comfortable place to hang out and enjoy refreshments.

Margaret and Phillip Isely went from selling bread door-to-door to founding Natural Grocers in 1955 in Lakewood, Colo. The family-owned and operated business grew into a national chain that competed with Whole Foods Market by targeting small to mid-sized markets. Natural Grocers went public in July and closed its first day at $17.86 per share, 19 percent higher than its offering price. Today the NGVC stock is $20.96 per share.

The retailer has tapped into the growing organic foods market, which has risen every year over the last decade. In 2000, organic food accounted for 1.2 percent of total groceries. Today organics make up 4 percent of food sales. Organic food outpaced the growth of total food sales in recent years, according to the Organic Trade Association.

For more information about Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage,