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Inside indie health food retailing

What we’ve discovered about store ambience that combines a traditional feel with modern design.

Normally at this time of year, we’re announcing the winner of our annual Secret Shopper Awards in the dynamic yet cosy atmosphere of the Health Food Institute annual lecture and presentations.

This year, the HFI’s fortieth anniversary, we’ll be keeping our powder dry as our awards sponsor has moved the event to the end of June to celebrate four decades of pioneering training for health food independents.

And what a line-up of quality entrants we have for the 2018 awards, especially in the all-important realm of interior design and store layout. To put it mildly, our team of mystery shoppers has unearthed some worthy exponents of appealing creativity.

A calming influence

“A strategic masterplan,” is how our shopper describes this store interior in an upmarket area. A rainbow of bottles, tubs and jars create an immaculate, colour-coded display with a very creative, calming experience. The streamlined interior creates “a seamless and holistic journey, just like the lifestyles they cater for”. As well as the beauty, supplements and food goods, there are funky yoga mats and a unique Yoga Formula plant-based supplement for yoga junkies. A clever balance of high-end industry stalwarts with local produce, teas and honey.

An holistic journey

Looking in from the outside, spotlighting gives the shop a warm and inviting glow. Inside, the senses are enlivened by that old-fashioned health shop smell – that mixture of wholefoods and natural remedies that lets you know that you’ve arrived in a truly independent health shop. Well defined small areas offer a journey to different parts of the shop, under old wooden beams, with products stocked on wooden dressers in an orderly, but non-clinical way that makes you want to pick products up and learn about them. “Cleverly, the shop layout takes you on an holistic journey into each area and, before you know it, you’ve picked up something in each,” says our shopper.

The apothecary tradition

This small store maximises space to create an appealing apothecary look with one interior wall filled with rows of glass jars containing herbs, spices and various whole foods. Turn around and there’s an island in the middle of the store packed with various grocery items, ranging from healthy cooking oils and sauces to teas, coffees and other drinks. On the opposite side of the store is a vast selection of free-from foods, organic produce and chilled food items. “The range of whole foods is certainly impressive,” reports our shopper. “The vitamins, minerals and supplements are located on the far wall of the store, along with sports nutrition, natural beauty products and eco-friendly cleaning items.”

Fresh & lively

Exposed brick walls, polished wood floors and a deli-style counter provide a lively buzz to this store. The deli counter is packed with delicious-looking vegan products, from dairy-free cheeses to spreads and meat substitutes. To the left of the store there is another counter where fresh food such as soups and salads is served. The till is positioned here, along with lots of inviting goodies such as organic chocolates and sweets. Elsewhere is an assortment of whole foods, organic grocery items and free-from foods, natural bodycare and VMS, while a chiller is packed with more vegan goodies.

The check out

The check out experience is important to our shopping team – in this case, it’s fast and friendly. A free eco bag is offered into which the assistant pops a copy of Your Healthy Living plus a leaflet with contact details for the store and a second leaflet with information on a sensitivity testing service. The chat includes what’s going on with the website and how popular telephone ordering has become, without being pushy. All useful information from happy, knowledgeable staff. “The staff members are friendly, knowledgeable and happy to help,” reports our secret shopper.

Read our article on the 40th anniversary of the Health Food Institute here...

Read more articles from our latest issue...