Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Health Food Stores Report Slowing Growth amid a Sluggish Economy

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Health Food Stores Report Slowing Growth amid a Sluggish Economy

Article excerpt

Just as pop culture caught onto the green and health-conscious movement, the nation's economy took a beating.

Health food stores offer organic and natural foods, which traditionally come at a higher price. Even with people paying closer attention to their pocketbook, several Oklahoma health food stores said they have not seen dramatic decreases in business.

Jeff Emerson, co-owner of Natural Farms Market in Tulsa, has been in the natural food business about eight years and has two stores in Tulsa. He said his stores charge about 10 to 15 percent higher than the average supermarket.

For the first six years, the stores saw about a 55-percent increase in sales. Over the past two years the stores' sales grew 20 percent.

Emerson said their loyal customer base keeps coming back, but the rising cost of food and gas has affected the overall business.

"We're pretty lucky with our customer base, but we have watched our south Tulsa sales drop somewhat at the store," he said.

He said the sluggish economy has put a stop to possible expansion plans for the business.

"We kind of reined that in until we find out what the economy is going to do, it's kind of scary," he said. "There was a group in Kansas City courting us and we almost moved there, but then the economy tanked."

Still, while his stores have taken somewhat of a hit, Emerson said he doesn't see the economy having a permanent effect on business.

"People are realizing when you buy local it is a little bit better taken care of," he said.

Mary Anne O'Dell, nutritionist with Akin's Natural Foods Market, said the store has not been hurt by rising food prices. She said the store has maintained its customer base and has seen an increase in new customers. She said because the store requires its employees to undergo mandatory health education training, it enables the store to offer services not found in other supermarkets.

Historically, organic prices were significantly higher than traditional food items, but in the last 10 years prices have become comparable, she said. Chain supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Homeland recently jumped on the green movement and began to offer organic food items as well. …

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