By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
A new branch of popular health food chain Whole Foods Market is scheduled to open for business on East Grand River Avenue this April, which will mark the third natural food store to open in or around the Meridian area within a five-mile radius.
With Whole Foods Market opening less than half a mile away from Foods For Living, experts expect a disruption in competition to alter business transactions among the health food stores in the Meridian area. Thomas Page, former Meridian Township resident and Associate Professor within Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, said he expects corporate-owned Whole Foods to take a notable slice of consumer traffic.
“Whole Foods is expensive, but it’s also a much bigger store and it’s going to draw a bigger influx of customers just because of the fact that it’s much more well-known. I think in the long run, Foods For Living is going to have a tough time surviving,” he said.
However, Page also proposed solutions for the company to remain successful in the coming seasons.
“If they can capitalize on the fact that they’re cheaper, they’ve been here longer, and they’re locally owned, then things might be easier,” he said. “It’s essential to put their ‘locally-owned’ spin on things.”
According to members of the health food community, consumer interest in the natural foods market is witnessing positive trends. Chris Faulkner, eight-year manager of Foods For Living, said that the goal of his store is much more than making a profit and instead hones in on improving the Meridian community.
“I‘m really thrilled to notice that more and more people are becoming interested and it’s not just a small segment of the population like it used to be years ago,” he said. “Our mission is to provide people with healthy food and education, and I think it’s becoming important to a greater number of people.”
Eric Finkler, produce clerk at Fresh Thyme’s East Lansing location, said that the increased interaction that comes with an influx of customers makes his job worthwhile.
“Many customers have asked me and my coworkers for advice in preparing certain ingredients and the nutritional value of different products,” Finkler said. “The curiosity and interest is there. It’s good to have resources in the community to help answer these questions while providing the resources for leading healthy lifestyles.”
Julia Jackson is an Okemos resident who recently began incorporating local health food stores into her weekly shopping routine. She said she was influenced to make the switch by a personal desire to become more aware of what she was putting into her body.
“I started shopping at these stores as part of a lifestyle change to eat organic and better quality foods,” Jackson said. “These stores have an impact because they make the community healthier.”
Even amidst the upcoming competition, Faulkner said he is still confident in his company and its values. He said that Foods For Living has garnered a significant amount of verbal support from its customers and believes their interest stems from the store’s dedication to give personal assistance and attention to their shoppers.
“We participate in the health of the Meridian community and feel very strongly about it,” Faulkner said. “That isn’t just some marketing line. We’ve done this for twenty years and we’ll do it for another twenty.”