InterviewsRitchies IGA reinvents health category

Ritchies IGA reinvents health category

With the health category firmly in the mainstream and the launch of Amazon food looming in Australia, how do you maintain your edge? For Ritchie’s IGA employing a full time naturopath to transform the customer journey from healthy breakfast to dinner is just the beginning.

The expansion of the offering under the ‘Healthy Living’ banner has also seen Ritchies IGA tighten criteria for products in the health category, which CEO Fred Harrison said had improved profitability and would help buffer against new market entries, like Amazon.

“Our business is about unique ranges and our point of difference; we’re working with consumer trends and our products are not the typical ones stocked by other retailers like Woolworths and Aldi. We will be impacted by Amazon, but we will be better placed than most due to our fresh offering and unique grocery items, like those in the health category,” he said.

The Healthy Living journey began three and half year’s ago over dinner when Mr Harrison asked friend and naturopath Jacqueline Perrott if she shopped at her local Ritchie’s IGA. “I said ‘No, I don’t’ and he asked me to come in and make Ritchies IGA a place I would shop,” Ms Perrott explained.

Since then Ms Perrott has been personally scrutinising and handpicking every product under the Healthy Living banner as the full time buying consultant. Ritchies is rolling out the concept to most of its 80 stores regardless of the size from three bays to 50. “We’ve really picked up the pace this year and implemented a lot of programs quickly. You’ll be able to go into most of our stores and get the same story – it’s a healthy journey for the customer from breakfast to dinner,” she said.

With almost 20 years’ as a naturopath, Ms Perrott is redefining the criteria for products sitting under the Healthy Living offering. She’s also working with suppliers to improve their ranges. “For example, many vegan products contain wheat, soy and canola oil (often GMO). We’re asking for vegan food cooked in coconut oil and gluten free.”

“What we’re eating is 90 per cent of our health, and what we’re using through our personal care and in our homes. If you give your body what it needs and take away interference the body will heal. Food is medicine; it’s all about whole foods. There are so many modern day diseases and allergies at levels never seen before in history. People need organic, gluten-free, clean foods. Consumers are also really taking a step back and saying, ‘What are we doing? I need to take responsibility to look after myself and my family.’  This is how people are coming to make healthy choices.”

“This offer is an adjunct to buying beautiful organic fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, which most our stores have now. It’s about supporting a healthy lifestyle, whichever way you want to do it. It used to be a bit of a luxury to go to your health food store every now and then and it required effort to be healthy, but now it’s a necessity and at Ritchies we’re making it easy.”

With earlier trials at Mt Eliza and Dromana in Victoria, Ms Perrott is introducing a core range with all of the basics across most stores. “We have good oils, flours, apple and coconut cider vinegars, staples like honey, maple syrup, rices, kelp and sweet potato noodles, yeast flakes, Celtic and Himalayan salts, cereals and smoothie toppers, packet mixes, nut spreads, nuts and seeds, healthy snacking (‘It’s ok to have a chip cooked in coconut oil – there’s no trans fat.’), dinner sauces and healthy, quick meals, plus some extra nice things as well – Pukka tea, Jasper organic coffee, vegan parmesan cheese, raw chocolate and we even have vegan lollies and marshmallows.”

“We have a heavy focus on vegan and paleo products. That’s really where the market is at the moment. We’re mostly organic or biodynamic and, if not, we’re chemical-free. I’m looking for the best quality and then I’ll determine from there on price. We’re really shopping for the customer to give them the best value. We’ve also trialled products in personal care, laundry and household products (bamboo coffee cups and Full Circle cleaning range) at some of our larger stores.”

“Customers are knowledgeable and they are sophisticated; they know where food is coming from and the way it’s processed. We know unhealthier product sales are plummeting. People want a healthier option; they are looking for healthier choices and we want to give them confidence to make them,” she said.

Mr Harrison said he was staggered by the rapid growth of the health category. “I saw that it was coming but I’m very surprised that it’s impacted our business as strong as it has, particularly in the last 12 months. I think it’s going to continue to progress like this over the next 12 months.” He said traffic and unit sales from the Healthy Living isle we’re comparable to other areas of the store.

“At the moment, we’re treating health as a category in its own right. I think over time it will become more mainstream and we may not have a health isle; it will be spread through the entire supermarket. Prices will also come down.”

“The consumer expectation will be that there is a significant offering of what we call Healthy Living available throughout the store,” Mr Harrison said.

Ritchies top picks

1 Niulife coconut amino sauces and coconut oil

“It’s a fabulous brand that we’re really excited to partner with. They’re not for profit and community-minded supporting projects in the Philippines.”

2 Mojo Kombucha

“Low in sugar and probiotic-rich.”

3 Eclipse Organic Paleo Bars

“Delicious, healthy and low GI for sustained energy.”

4 Applelachia apple cider vinegar drink

“It’s an all natural soda; your daily does of apple cider vinegar with fresh fruit and birch xylitol, an amazing prebiotic, very good for the gut, cleans the plaque off your teeth and provides sweetness with very little sugar.”

5 Nutra Organics dehydrated bone broth

“As a population we’re overfed and under nourished. This is great way to add extra nourishment into foods everyday.”

Lisa Crawford Jones is an award winning journalist, editor of What's New in Healthy Products and content manager to Naturally Good. She's a health content specialist with two decades’ experience spanning senior positions in public health policy; media, communications and advertising; and both consumer and trade markets for healthy packaged goods.

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