Crush is the word that came to mind as I navigated Hall E, the lower level of Natural Products Expo West, in Anaheim, CA, in early March. This is where newer companies exhibit, some launching at the show. The aisles were packed, something I expected since hotels had sold out last fall.

To see all the booths in a short time, I tried to identify each product as quickly as possible. It wasn’t easy. Nine in 10 featured in boldest lettering a negative first; the absence of some ingredient like gluten, animal products or heat-processing (raw). But it took much longer to identify what the product actually was. Questionable marketing.

Some winners: Modern Table Meals; easy, healthy and delicious kid-friendly solutions. Hip Chick Farms; finally, a natural fully cooked chicken nugget. Microwave NOT recommended; just heat and eat. Q Drinks, with lightly carbonated and sweetened flavors like ginger, and with thoughtful herbal combinations for a sophisticated adult soda. And, Love Birch, birch-tree-sap beverages, with flavors like elderberry, again not too sweet, refreshing and healthy.

Arriving on Thursday to speak, one day ahead of the exhibits’ opening, I had a chance to tour the newest Sprouts Farmers Market in Huntington Beach. Abundant produce in large case stacks at doorbuster prices greet shoppers outside. Inside, the signage and décor signal “farmer’s market” casual. Our guide emphasized “comfortable” as the premier attribute they wish to convey, and “neighborhood market,” a close second.

With 12 feet or so of meat case and custom butchery in every store, I asked how management is able to find qualified staff, since conventional supermarkets are cutting back on these departments for a reported lack of skilled people to fill these positions. Not so for Sprouts. The company is benefitting from the same sort of halo effect rival Whole Foods Market enjoys in attracting those who proactively want to work for a company whose ideals they embrace.

“Culture will eat strategy for lunch,” our guide tells us, referring to the power of the employee mindset to derail any come-to-market strategy management may wish to pursue. The company has a laser-like focus on training and inculcating a “Yes” mentality in its workforce. Management rewards best-in-store performance with meaningful recognition and financial perks.

Conclusion? The U.S. natural movement rumbles on, gathering momentum as it reaches deeper into America’s consciousness. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 37 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2014