Although several health food traders are finding it profitable to sell their stock over the internet, the organic business is based on relationships with the local community at grass roots level, so it’s probably best to go down the traditional path and start thinking about getting premises and stock to form the basis of your new store.
There are several different ways of getting your natural produce – you can go to the farmer directly, have stock sold to you via a third party or go through a wholesaler.
To cut out the middleman entirely (and therefore potentially save yourself some money) you can get involved in a ‘box scheme’ with your local farmer or produce supplier. From between £5 to £20 a week you can get a grinning farmer on your doorstep, clutching a box full of carrots, potatoes and other various fruit and vegetables plucked fresh from the field.
You'll probably need more than one delivery a week to keep your stock at a healthy level, but such schemes are valuable and have expanded rapidly over the past few years as local farmers cash in on the boom in natural and organic foodstuffs. Where once you could get a box containing a mouldy cauliflower and a droopy leek, many suppliers now offer a wide range of products, including dairy produce and wine, delivered directly to you at an affordable rate.
Farmers’ markets are another good source of natural, affordable products and, like box schemes, have seen a surge in popularity. The markets, which usually take place once a week in a community hall or field, are often great places for a bargain, with farmers selling their produce directly to you, thereby cutting out the middleman.
Be careful not to be blinded by the potential profits these markets can lead to – it is not guaranteed that all the produce on sale will be organic. Like with many organic products, farmers must be certified and have the proper documentation before they can legally call their fruit and vegetables ‘organic’. Make sure you query this with the farmer, as you could be hauled up in front of the authorities if you start selling non-organic food under false pretences.
For details of local box schemes or farmers markets, consult the Soil Association by visiting their website - www.soilassociation.org
Make sure when you buy your supplies, you don't over-stretch your fledgling business. As a new firm, creditors will be reluctant to give you huge amounts of capital to get your produce - particularly in the current economic climate.
As supermarkets and high street firms offer a considerable challenge to attract customers wanting something different, make sure you make cautious purchases so you can gauge what is popular to the general public.
According to Richard Hawes of Kallo Foods in Godalming, the most sought-after products are Soya milk, rice, and gluten free foods.
“Visit as many other health food stores as possible, see what they stock,” advises Paul Wick, of Southville Deli in Bristol. “Flesh the bones of the store with that knowledge and the help of a good wholesaler.
“After that, be guided by your customers’ requests. Sometimes I’ve bought something in for a customer and it turned out everybody was looking for it - they just didn’t say so,” he explains.
Major health food suppliers include Suma Wholefoods (www.suma.co.uk), Essential Trading (www.essential-trading.co.uk), and Community Foods (www.communityfoods.co.uk).
As with many businesses, the location of your store and your rent can make a huge difference to whether you succeed or not.
“What you need to keep in mind is whether you are in the right demographic area,” explains Wick. “Will shops nearby complement your business, is there anything to draw people to your locality?”
Of course, sites near the high street or in popular shopping centres are expensive. If you want to compete with a big chain store or supermarket, make sure you're offering something different, or at a better value - or you could lose out.