Healthy, wealthy and wise. Guaranteed.

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

Thankfully, we now live in a time of green shoots and many new start-ups. The multi-platform model gives instant access to consumers via web and social media shops. Realistically though, they are often self-limiting to a pay-per-click-controlled access to potential customers.

Health Stores Ireland maintains a live artisan directory. Built on recommendations and testimonials from our retailer network, it lists between 250-300 Irish artisans and small producers who may offer partnership opportunities via a similar amount of health food shops. It is regularly peer reviewed and occasionally forensically audited.

Unfortunately, at each audit we find ourselves deleting once promising artisans whose 'website can't be reached' or whose last social media posting was 2017. Why is this happening? All the glossy pictures and professional brochures might have suggested a road to success and sustainability was the only path ahead. Sadly, we are learning with our artisan friends that this is not as clear cut as it may seem.

State support agencies like Enterprise Ireland provide excellent business courses for small producers. Essential learning around marketing, regulations, finance and funding is offered and some budding Bransons do benefit and may even reach for the stars. Thankfully, not everyone is a Musk. Most artisans will see themselves as closer to Picasso than Bezos. It's all about skill, scale, and sustainability. Having your products on well-lit shelves in Dubai when your potential customers are cycling to shops in Donegal is just exercising vanity.

For many small producers, the allure of big chain multiples, with nudges in their direction from banks and support agencies, can be irresistible. If that's your goal, then go for it, but expect a “told you so” glint in the eyes of independents if it goes sliding out the back door. Expect the same glint if you find yourselves unexpectedly trying to manage a monster.

One of my friends recently spoke about multiple grocery ‘community washing' in the same way that corporate businesses like to greenwash. Each of the supermarket chains in Ireland now has a cleverly coined and marketable theme wrapped around their brand to lure in local producers. You might want to ‘grow with' your local ‘academy' and they may ‘kick start' you on a journey towards untold riches. If you're a small producer or an independent retailer I ask you to look around your nearest big brand supermarket. Ignore all the corporate brands and ask yourself - how many millionaires has this place made? Big chain grocery works on value per square foot. Value back to them, that is.

Producers, artisans and brand holders - there is another way. Grow with us. No that's not our catchy marketing strapline, well at least it wasn't until now. The independent health food sector in Ireland can show you a case study of a start-up brand that now has over 80% coverage of the market. That's over 200 shops busy selling your brand across the country. The UK health food sector, with a much longer history and wider network, has scores of these case studies too.

There are no dragons in our dens ready to humiliate you. There won't be merchandising mercenaries hiding around corners waiting to disappear your products behind theirs as soon as you turn the corner of the aisles. Our managers will remember your name.

Whether you are an artisan with a dozen local shops backing up your farmers market stalls or building a pukka tasting tea or pie for national dominance, you'll find a receptive sector with just a few logical and ethical boxes for you to tick.

So, under social (media) pressure we've hash tagged our efforts as #Guarantedhealthy but when it comes to corporate gleaming, we know we can't beat them, and we certainly won't be joining them.

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

Read more articles from our latest issue...