These days you don’t have to look too hard to find a store specialising in natural, organic products – but there are a few old faithfuls who have been here from the beginning. We met with the operators of three of Melbourne’s longest standing health food stores, each with a unique story and approach to maintaining appeal in an industry that has become big business.
Organic Whole Foods
Scott Kinnear has been managing Organic Whole Foods Melbourne for nearly 25 years. “In that time there have been products that have surged in popularity but still sell well even though they may move down from the peak when interest dwindles,” he says.
“Coconut and anything containing it, be it food or skin care, is huge at the moment. People just cannot get enough of this amazing oil that is sustainable and good for us. We’re also selling an enormous amount of fresh kale, which people eat fresh in smoothies or cook.”
For Whole Foods to stay competitive, Scott says it is essential to continuously introduce new products, in particular the ones that are at the cutting edge of health and nutrition.
“The raw food products are a great example of innovation, with many products being developed and launched by start-up small businesses. Our competition is always the big supermarkets and we can take on small, new brands far more easily and support those local entrepreneurs.”
Whole Foods stays connected to its customers with a regular email newsletter and a loyalty program that offers special discounts to members.
After more than two decades in the industry, Scott’s passion for what he does remains strong. “It is great to be selling organic food that has such an amazing positive benefit on both people’s health and our environment,” he says.
Prahran Health Foods
Michael Jacobs, manager at Prahran Health Foods, started in the health food industry 20 years ago after practising pharmacy for 15 years in New York.
“At the time, none of my friends or family had even walked into a health food store,” he says. “Now we are a mainstream industry, so those who thought that we were a fad industry years ago are biting their tongues now.”
Health Foods Prahran has had two major renovations over the last 20 years, the latest of which made room for their online store australianvitamins.com
“We also have The Orchard Prahran, our yoga studio and a seminar space for health lectures and cooking classes, as well as rooms for our naturopaths, massage therapists and a dietitian.”
Michael said Prahran Health Foods has a loyal customer base that has supported the business through the years.
“We have a free membership that rewards our customers with discounts and vouchers.
“The best thing for me about running Prahran Health Foods is that it’s always changing and it will continue to do so to stay relevant to our customers and the community.”
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth is a co-operative in Collingwood. It started out 40 years ago in a terrace house in Carlton as part of an environmental activist group campaigning against whaling.
Beth has managed the trading arm of the co-op for the last 25 years and has worked to reinvent the business many times to keep the operation up to date with customers’ needs.
Friends of the Earth is unique in that it is part of a world-wide network of co-ops, working to support clean, waste-wise agriculture and supply communities with vital healthy products.
“We still have customers who travel into town from the country every six weeks to pick up their supplies from us. They’ve done so for years and will always do so because they believe in our ethos of ethically and sustainably sourced products,” Beth says.
“Partly thanks to the number of cooking shows and people seeking professional dietary advice, customers are more aware of where their food is sourced and how it is produced.”
At Collingwood Friends of the Earth, Beth has seen the rise and fall in popularity of many things over the years. “For a while there it was wheatgrass – it was everywhere and now you hardly hear about it.
“The growing awareness of allergies and dietary requirements and the mainstream acceptance of vegetarianism and veganism – especially in the past 5 years – has influenced what customers want massively.”
Turmeric is becoming more and more sought after at the moment and Beth predicts it will continue to do so. Demand of fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, is also on the rise.
“Our philosophy is one of sincerity and integrity, and the ever-changing nature of what we do is the best thing for me about running Friends of the Earth.”