Propelled by the modern-day focus on healthy, natural foods and widespread public unease over products genetically modified or sprayed with pesticides, the UK organic food industry is worth nearly £2bn.
“The GM (genetically modified) situation has certainly given organic food a massive boost,” says Richard Bosly, of the Organic Food Federation. “But now the steam has run out of that slightly, we're seeing that environmental protection and sustainability are becoming big concerns for consumers.”
Many modern heath food shops offer more services and products than you would imagine, allowing them to tap into other areas of the vast health market other than just food.
Organic products have been created naturally, without the use of pesticides or chemicals additives. The term ‘organic’ also means the environment hasn't been harmed during production.
Organic farms are certified after two years of being chemical- and pesticide-free. Retailers can acquire organic products from the farmer directly, or at markets and trade shows.
However, organic products aren't cheap - they often cost twice as much as their mass-produced alternatives. This can make it difficult to competitively price your stock when going head to head with high street chains – so health food stores have to be inventive by exploiting their niche market.
Other products and services
The modern health food store is now a viable, varied enterprise – the image of drab, musty-smelling shops full of endless shelves of inedible chewy bars is now a thing of the past. Spurred on by the rising popularity of alternative food and medicines, many health food stores have added various services to their range, such as allergy testing and aromatheraphy, as well as stocking herbs and supplements.
Depressed by the state of the NHS, and often looking for an alternative cure, consumers are increasingly turning to natural remedies such as St John’s wort and ginseng to combat anything from depression to cold sores.
“We supply vitamins, herbals and ‘body foods’,” explains Selma Ford, manager of Healthfoods Unlimited in Exeter. “We also have a therapy room and I employ a medical herbalist, allergy tester and osteoporosis specialist to come in several times a week. We also offer aromatheraphy.
“I would say the business we get is split about 50-50 between the health foods and the treatments. They complement each other well,” she says.
Who is it suited to?
So, who can run a health food store? “Someone who is dedicated to helping others and has an interest in alternative medicine, special diet foods and the environment,” says Richard Hawes, of Kallo Foods, a health food store based in Godalming, Surrey.
Although almost any entrepreneur with good business sense and foresight can successfully run a health food store, it does help if you believe in what you are promoting. An awareness of green issues, a concern for food producers and a natural weariness of pesticides and GM foods will help you convincingly sell the idea of healthy, natural produce.
Qualifications in nutrition and other related field are very useful, and add authority to your sales pitch, if nothing else.
“You need to be someone outgoing, ideally with product or nutritional knowledge,” explains Paul Wick of Southville Deli, in Bristol. “You need the ability to deal with the paperwork, lots of stamina to cope with the physical side of constantly moving stock, and the long hours.”