This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November issue.
A haven for the health conscious
In a world where more and more retailers are steering us online to shop, Nature’s Emporium has gone back to basics by creating a physical space where shoppers want to gather—in-person!
Enter this latest Nature’s Emporium location in Woodbridge, Ont., and you’ll find Juiceppe’s Organic Juice Bar and Cafe offering cold-pressed organic juices and smoothies—with an impressive array of healthy snacks, too. It’s the perfect introduction for what awaits throughout the rest of this 21,000-sq.-ft. space: a mecca of healthy foods and natural products in an atmosphere that lends itself to conversation.
“We really want to be a place where people can grab an organic meal and talk to each other in a non-intimidating space,” says president and co-founder Joe D’Addario, who has been heading the family-run, independent retailer since its inception in 1993. “In this day and age, the term ‘brick and mortar’ has taken a negative connotation, but we don’t see it that way. We see it as a place of community where the experience to connect with one another, face to face and heart to heart, nourishes us in a way that online shopping could never match.” (Nature’s has an active social media presence, too, and offers digital flyers so shoppers can keep on top of specials and store news.)
D’Addario says the juice bar (which has a walk-up window that opens an hour before the rest of the store) is a natural meeting hub that helps to create a community feel. Having a gym right next door also means there’s a steady stream of customers stopping in for a healthy lunch, snack or dinner to-go option from Nature’s Emporium’s extensive hot tables and salad bar. Here you’ll find large pots of quinoa, brown rice and soups made in-store, along with a variety of freshly prepared vegetables and daily fish and meat specials to fit vegan, keto, paleo and other dietary preferences.
Even the stone-oven pizzas are made using an organic spelt or gluten-free crust, and the all-organic salad bar features interesting add-ons such as kimchi.
Opening last November, Woodbridge is the fourth and most recent addition to the Nature’s Emporium family of stores, which span from Newmarket and Maple to Burlington. It’s the only location with a juice bar, and D’Addario says this first year has proven so successful, they’ll be launching a similar concept in all future locations. More than other locations, he says the demographic for this latest iteration of Nature’s skews towards the health-conscious millennial set, although customers span all ages. “Ultimately, our customers are health conscious and looking for the newest products to help them on their wellness journey.”
Beyond the juice bar and fresh bistro, a big draw is the natural and organic bulk food section. It features dozens of varieties of grains, flours, sugar alternatives, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, along with nut butters freshly ground on the premises. There’s also a huge selection of gluten-free foods, supplements, herbs and body products.
The design of the store itself also aims to promote a fresh, healthy living space. Modern wood signage amidst a colour palette of fresh yellows and greens provides an ideal canvas to promote a bevy of colourful fresh—and often locally sourced—items. D’Addario worked with in-house designer Emilie Dennis, who is the creative force behind the look of all Nature’s Emporium locations. “She is originally from France and brings that European style to our stores,” he says.
But more than anything, D’Addario says the heart of all Nature’s Emporium locations is education. Woodbridge is no exception. “People often ask us what business we are in, and I tell them we are in the food business where we provide natural and organic foods and products, but really our focus is on education and providing a supportive environment with professional and knowledgeable staff to empower our customers to make informed decisions,” he says.
True to its word, Nature’s Emporium features in-store “Living Room” spaces to host healthy cooking classes and a variety of educational seminars led by staff and local health and wellness experts. Topics have covered everything from raising healthy kids and women’s issues to gut health and weight-loss tactics. “We have certified nutritionists and naturopaths here, and our employees are always learning about products from suppliers who do training sessions over lunch, so they can share that knowledge,” he says.
Customers can also book a free store tour with one of several registered holistic nutritionists on site who will share nutrition tips and provide expert advice on product options for food allergies and special diets. With a large natural cosmetic section in the store, there’s also a makeup artist for free consultations on the best products to take care of your skin.
“We owe a lot of our success to the people who work at Nature’s Emporium, because they are the ones who look after everyone else,” says D’Addario. “My priority as president is to ensure our team members are happy and healthy so that we can offer positive energy to our customers.”
With a reputation for knowledgeable staff, it’s no surprise that Nature’s Emporium is a place where suppliers want to be. “When someone comes out with a new product that’s organic, we’re one of the very first companies they call,” says D’Addario. “We support the young entrepreneurs, especially when they’re local, and they support us by coming in and doing sampling and education—we don’t just throw the products on our shelves.” As a result, the store is filled with carefully curated product displays featuring the latest and greatest in natural food products, supplements, vitamins, body and home care products.
Customers can also look to “Miranda’s Picks” throughout the store and in every flyer for a selection of ethically sourced, allergen-free products carefully chosen and tested by Nature’s Emporium’s director of health and wellness Miranda Malisani, who is also a holistic nutritionist.
After a successful first year in Woodbridge, and some 26 years in business overall, Nature’s Emporium is proving that independent brick-and-mortar grocers can stay relevant, even in the digital age. But that’s only when they’re willing to evolve, says D’Addario. “We started as a bulk food store that sold vitamins and, over the years, we have evolved into what we are today,” he says. “The real secret to our success is listening to our customers and then providing them with a place where they can learn about living a healthier, longer life.”
As for future plans, D’Addario says Nature’s Emporium will keep expanding at its own measured pace. “We grow very organically, pardon the pun, so we’re in no big rush.”