Over the now three and a half decades I have been on the health and nutrition field, it has always been common knowledge that the independent retailer health food supplement store was the “go to” place for all things health and nutrition. In the beginning, it was the place to go for information in a world that seemed set on keeping the industry at arm’s length and focused on portraying supplements as a fad or idea that would most likely never catch on.

As time went on, more and more people started relying on health food stores to guide them, as well as give them the knowledge they needed to make better choices in their supplement and nutrition regime. It was a time when our nation started taking some responsibility for our health, and health questions started to bloom, and we gradually started inching forward to being healthier, and feeling better, a process still trying to fully take hold today.

When nutrition technology started to become more intricate and more detailed, health food store employees were the rocks and foundation that customers learned to rely on for information, and getting their questions answered. I feel in my heart that if we were to rewind the last 30 years and take away the knowledge, passion and education and devotion of health food store employees, this industry would not be anywhere close to where it is today. The voices and stability of the health food stores kept all of this new technology visible, and the employees were the springboard for all of this groundbreaking information and all the new wonderful formulas. I interview daily the best minds, formulators, scientists and educators in the nutrition field on my radio shows and I will bet that every one of them would agree that health food store employees—the voices of our industry—are the true leaders for our healthy mission.

Over the last decade, the industry has veered into many other markets and the independent health food stores are working even harder to keep customers up to do date and educated, and keep shoppers on the right track. Being healthy today is harder than ever because of unhealthy lifestyles and because as humans, we are impatient and almost demand a complete reversal of symptoms and re-establishment of great health over night, as if by magic wand theory. Realistically, this is not going to happen, although even I wish it was available. In the industry, the movement to mainstream distribution has made the field of customers wider and made products more visible on a larger scale. But, has it allowed people to choose correctly and wisely for their individual health situations? I think that is still questionable.

Health food store employees are working even harder to maintain their customer bases, and establish them as the go-to places for health. It is very common today that many employees are going back to school to get degrees and taking as many continued education classes to be the go-to information business you cannot find anywhere but in an independent health food store. There is a growing trend to what the health food stores have always known. It is called sound education and great understandable knowledge as their number one foundation value system. Stay Healthy!, a health food store in Las Vegas I have worked with, has embraced continuing education, great customer service as a foundation and the key to their success.

I think the one thing that amazes me the most is that we as a nation search out information for almost everything we do in life. We ask questions, go to consumer reports, and pose questions and opinions on social media, so we are already in the knowledge searching mode. So why do we choose convenience of just grabbing something off a shelf rather than going to a business that provides not only quality, integrity, but also greatly needed and excellent customer service and knowledge? I wish I knew the answer.

Jeffrey Burke, ND, MH, CNC, CHS, is a host of The Staying Healthy! Radio Show, and health educator/lecturer. He is also a naturopath and master herbalist. In August 2012, he was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

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NOTE: The opinions presented here are those of the writer.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine Online, 1/5/16