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Training Рat our industry’s heart

Ray Hill
Founder and Secretary of the Health Food Institute

In 1972, the National Association of Health Stores (NAHS) established the first and only training body specifically for health food retailers and members of their staff. Ably managed and run by Kell and Pat Sainsbury it became a much-needed source of information that would help retailers do a better job.

What was very obvious in those early years was that most of the students were the owners and managers of the shops and they successfully made their way through the whole course, what is now Part One and Part Two, thereby qualifying them for the full Diploma in Health Food Retailing.

Over the years things developed, not just the upgrading of the courses as product ingredients and the legalities changed, but those owners and managers were registering and paying for their staff to be trained. It was new and innovative, one might say exciting, as an element of competition and the desire to be seen to be knowledgeable and confident began to emerge.

The retail sector of the health food industry was getting more professional. Gone were the days when we were described as cranks and nut cases. There was a desire to learn. To such an extent that Kell and his team were holding classes (there was no Internet in those days) in Nottingham College, its base, but also all over the country. This inevitably led to a hard copy course by post and is, for the most part, now operating online.

The value of training widens the possibilities for other members of the family and employees to further their careers. An example is Mrs Lee Taylor who owned and ran her health food store in Loughborough, the first person to achieve the Diploma nearly 50 years ago. Today her son, Ian, who also excelled in the Diploma course, is now in a senior position with Green People.

Many others who profited as a result of early health food training have had doors opened for them in other sections of the industry, not least those who have chosen the practitioner route or combined it with retail. Then there are those whose success has given them the confidence to build their business by opening more stores.

Those owners and managers new to health food retailing would gain knowledge quickly and develop a deeper understanding of the trade's background and ultimate purpose. While the desire to operate a successful, profitable business is important, so too is the ethos of the industry and its raison d'etre.

As we emerge from the first pandemic in our lifetime, it has become clear that health food retailers have provided inestimable dietary and viral preventative initiatives from their knowledge, much of it absorbed through relevant training.

You may recall we were recommending customers to take vitamins D3 and C long before science began considering it worth investigating. However, it was much more than that. We all had our particular immunity-protecting favourites, be they vitamin and mineral combinations or individual supplements such as colloidal silver, zinc and selenium.

Because of the knowledge gained in nutrition and diet we were able to understand the relationship of the Covid death toll to people's state of health. It was obvious that any state of diminished health, even those carrying excess weight, were the vulnerable ones and so it proved.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. We are learning all the time, and those who seek a career in the field of health will derive great benefit by searching out courses that will create further opportunities for them. In other words, always leave the door open for additional knowledge.

Pictured: Ellie Musson of Elixir Health Foods, Wadebridge, student of the year 2020

The HFI has a new address and phone number: P.O. Box 10978, Nottingham NG2 9XG
Tel: 0115 923 4534
Email: [email protected]

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