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Doing fine, just not online

Alan McGrath
National Organiser,Health Stores Ireland

The biggest store attraction is what you know best

The pandemic and lockdown have generated a well-established return to shopping local. Most health stores have benefited. It has also brought on increased demand for online retailing. Are we going to be running out the door every evening with parcels for the post office deadline, too busy to stop and chat, or is it a time to refocus on our core business and regular customers?

Over the last few years enterprise departments have made a concerted push to get businesses selling online. Makes sense and on trend you might think. But getting online may not be the panacea you expect and if you don’t quickly hit difficult targets, it may actually turn out to be an unhealthy and unprofitable distraction.

As part of a regular brand survey, our members highlighted several “not easily purchased online” products and services that may be a more worthwhile and sustainable investment.

Local and organic fresh fruit and vegetables are the ultimate health foods. Companies like UDEA offer an all-year-round supply of organic products to back up seasonal supplies. Local honey has become a go-to product for health food stores where both suppliers and buyers are happy to have a trusted retailer who understands honey’s unique attributes and seasonal supply factors.

Take-away coffee needs some investment and training. Coffee probably gets overstated as the lucrative “golden cup” for retailers, but properly handled and carefully managed it can provide a gateway to other grab-and-go options.

Sourcing an organic coffee and investing in high quality machines and barista training will give you the edge over everyday grocery. Outsourcing producers for take-away soups and salads can reduce the need for investment in expensive kitchen equipment. In-store or locally supplied baked speciality breads are growing in popularity.

The tech-savvy Generation Z, who will often turn to online options as a first resort when shopping, may pass you by if you are not online. Offering healthy smoothies and juices can become a great way for you to introduce your store to them. It could also become your creative corner where you can incorporate many of the plant milks, superfoods and fresh fruit that are within hand's reach of you every day.

Bulk to refill cleaning products, personal care and dried foods/wholefoods do not have to be lost to the so-called zero waste sector. After all this is where our sector began, and it would be madness to lose a well-established footfall generator to pop ups and temporary trend followers. It doesn’t need a huge investment and you can mix and match with different types of dispensers and systems to suit your space and budget.

Artisan food producers and health food store owners are natural bedfellows and there is an increasing array and demand for speciality dairy. Health food stores can be on the front foot when it comes to goat’s and sheep’s cheese, kefirs and yogurts. Boosting your fresh food offering is something to consider when facing the lure of online.

Of course, you can do both if you have the budget, but trust your gut and stay close to what you know best.

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook

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