The Natural Products Industry has always relied primarily on its retailers to determine what is and what isn't "natural". This is mostly due to the fact that there is no real legal "definition" for natural, despite attempts over the decades by industry leaders (including yours truly) to encourage the government to define the term. But since that hasn't happened and won't likely happen any time in the near future, the industry is forced to regulate itself. And since natural channel distributors and retailers are closest to the consumer in the supply chain, these organizations have always set standards for what they will and won't put on their shelves.
In general. natural products should not contain artificial ingredients at all. Although there is much argument about a great many issues, that is the one thing the natural products community seems to agree upon. But there are also quite a few natural channel specialty retailers, as well as larger players such as Wal-Mart and Kroeger, huge organizations that do sell some natural products. And now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods Markets, the brand that basically defined standards for the entire industry in the 1980's, it might be time for another retailer to emerge to serve the natural products "purists" as Whole Foods goes mainstream.
Natural Grocers was founded in 1955, long before the industry became the juggernaut it is today, and has a manifesto called "What We Won't Sell And Why". This should give you an idea of how marketers there feel about standards, which happens to be a very effective point of differentiation. In addition to a lack of artificial ingredients, eggs are 100% cage-free, produce is 100% USDA-certified Organic, meats are raised under natural conditions (no hormones or antibiotics, grass-fed), dairy is pasture-based, everything is free of genetically-Modified Organisms (GMO's), and the list goes on. These standards are unparalleled in an industry that is predicated on high standards, and Natural Grocers is now in 19 states.
Indeed there is room for another brand to assume a leadership position in the natural channel since the Whole Foods brand is not likely to be viewed as positively by natural products loyalists after its acquisition by Amazon. The company had humble beginnings as a purveyor of vitamins and herbs in the Denver-area, and was formerly called "Vitamin Cottage", but has since re-branded and differentiated into a viable competitor for consumers seeking healthier and more environmentally-friendly options with 140 locations and counting. It seems that nothing can stop the momentum that the marketers at Natural Grocers have generated.
Discussion: Do you think that Whole Foods will lose some of its "natural cache" due to the merger? After researching Natural Grocers, do you think that it has what it takes to be "standard-bearer for natural"? Explain your answers.
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