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Organic, natural foods catch on in Wichita

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, at 3:19 p.m.

Matt Murray has watched customers spend three hours shopping for food in GreenAcres Market & Deli, carefully examining the label on each product they put in their cart or basket.

“People are wanting to live healthier and longer,” said Murray, a co-owner of the natural foods store in Bradley Fair at 21st and Rock.

Foods and other products marketed as organic or natural have seen their sales grow over recent years.

Over the two decades ending in 2010, sales of organic food and beverages shot up from $1 billion to $26.7 billion annually, according to the Organic Trade Association. They accounted for about 4 percent of all food and beverage sales in 2010, with organic fruits and vegetables representing 11 percent of all the sales in that niche.

The growth in the natural and organic sectors also is seen in the addition of stores.

GreenAcres in recent years has added stores in Kansas City, Mo., and Jenks, Okla.

But the boom in natural and organic foods has affected more than just locally owned specialty stores like GreenAcres, Food for Thought and Whole Foods Association.

According to the Organic Trade Association, supermarkets, club stores and other mass-market retailers now sell more than half the organic products consumed.

“Every day, we see new customers interested in organic and natural foods,” said Dillons supermarket spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie.

Dillons stores carry organic items across the company’s meat, produce and dairy lines. In produce, Lowrie said, a typical Dillons might carry 60 to 80 organic items, while the larger Dillons Marketplace stores offer nearly 100.

In September, Dillons parent company Kroger Co. launched the Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic product lines.

There’s also been an influx locally of national food retailers that feature specialty foods and natural and organic products. Last year saw the opening of The Fresh Market and Natural Grocers on Rock Road, and Whole Foods Market will open a store a little farther east in the Waterfront development this year.

“We’ve done really well in spite of the competition,” Murray said of GreenAcres, which opened 19 years ago.

The market tries to build customer loyalty by sourcing as much food as possible locally, offering lots of samples and emphasizing personal service.

And it doesn’t hurt that there’s more demand than ever.

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