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Yes, we are all individuals

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

As a service to our members, we carry out occasional sectoral surveys. In the midst of yet another big brand U-turn, we tried to measure the ability of store owners and their staff to switch their customers to alternative brands. Perhaps to a brand that was more sustainable and less glitzy, one with sales expectations that were more broadly acceptable and less targeted.

The survey reported an overwhelming belief in a perceived ability to brand shift. Well over 80% in fact. A firm restatement of our individualism and independence.

I have ranted here before about retailers being the real influencers and I won’t drag us all over those coals again, but I might indulge in teasing out the meaning of true independence. What does it mean to you, if you are a retailer? What does it mean to your customers, if anything? What do they expect you to be if you are waving that independent flag all over the place? What are the expectations from the brands that supply you and, most importantly, if you are truly independent should your brands’ expectations matter to you at all?

Your name over the door is a statement of intent. You might have rustled around the hessian sack and managed to find a quirky name that immediately links you in the mind of the consumer to the health food sector, or you may have aligned yourself with an established high street brand while convincing yourself it won’t impact on your independence and individualism. The expectation has been established. How’s the delivery going to look?

Repeat after me: “I will not become a slave to the brands.” You have created consumer expectation and you hold strong views and firm ethical values. How will this work? Do you follow the retail gurus and market trends? Clean lines, bright lights, retail science-derived pantones, faced out, spaced out displays, focused offers, flow charts and trends. That’ll work for sure. Is that you?

Seasonal organic vegetables on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, artisan breads on Friday - maybe the racket of organic coffee going through a grinder creating warm aromas, spoons clanging against delph*, boxes of all sorts in one corner, dream catchers and incense wafting in another, local arts and crafts filling out any semblance of minimalism. Raucous and ram shackled. Is that you? That’ll work for sure too.

There’s room for everyone. I’d go one step further and say a thriving health food sector needs everyone. Brexit was a proverbial tide that went out and exposed many parts. One of those was that the Irish independent health food market is far too small to hold a sustainable flow of goods, either those from the UK, tiptoeing through a Brexit-induced minefield, or our EU brothers trying to mend language and label issues.

Say after me, in perfect harmony – “Yes, we are all individuals”. Thankfully, there is a denoted and well-established sector that supports this right to be different.

*An Irish word for crockery

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

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