Natural products retailers are often told that the best way to compete in today’s market is to show off what makes them unique and special. An annual tasting event held at Sundance Natural Foods of Eugene, OR, is a great example of a store highlighting a special quality and running with it to give shoppers a great, engaging store experience.

For the past eight years, Sundance Natural Foods has held a Fall Tasting event, with some special “guests” as the centerpiece. States Andrea Pierce, the store’s produce manager, “Every fall, our store brings in pretty much every apple and pear variety we can. We don’t just stock the common varieties like Fuji and gala; at the height of the season, we get between 30 and 40 apples and pears. We get everything we possibly can, and people really appreciate that.”

The store decided to highlight this unique aspect of their produce offerings in a free apple and pear tasting, and the single-day, four-hour event has grown to attract over 1,000 visitors, with shoppers lining up to attend before the doors open. First and foremost, the free event is about community building and giving shoppers the chance to taste and feel its expansive produce offerings. “There’s no easy way for shoppers to pick out their favorite apple without trying them,” says Pierce. “So, we created a chance for people to taste everything at the height of the season.”

The event has expanded to include local vendors, such as cheesemakers, local breweries, a locally roasted organic coffee maker and more. “It has become a big event, [which has built] a strong customer–local vendor connection…We also have our store’s kitchen represent some of their yummy recipes as well,” says Pierce.

According to Pierce, the connections made at the event help build a better shopper relationship with the store throughout the year. She states, “When shoppers see the apples start coming out in the fall, they want to know when the tasting event will be…They really remember it, get excited about it and appreciate it.”

Pierce says her store enjoys providing the event as “a service to the community”—and that’s the best way to create long-term connections. “We see it as a special treat for our shoppers,” she states.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Januar 2015 (online 12/4/14)