Consumers are asking for increasingly specific products according to Gary Trickett, chairman of the UK National Association of Health Food Stores, and owner of Healthy Route, which operates three independent health food shops in the East Midlands of England.
Trickett said superfood powders were big sellers, including beetroot and kelp. And for some products such as spirulina, consumer demand can be very precise.
So many spirulinas
“A few years ago, the only offering in our stores would be maybe one spirulina capsule product – we’re now finding that stores have four or five spirulina powders,” he said.
“But what’s interesting is that the consumer comes in and asks for an even more specific spirulina – so is that spirulina grown in New Zealand, or South America, or China? There seems to be a number of filters in place, and it becomes more and more obscure to source that product,” Trickett added.
He noted this could be frustrating, as consumers are increasingly unlikely to settle for an alternative variety. Trickett said his stores currently stock seven different spirulina powders, with healthy demand for all.
“It’s a throwback to an age of when I was a sales rep calling on health food shops, 20 or 30 years ago. You would have had seven or eight different offerings for vitamin C – whereas now we only have one or two offerings for vitamin C, but seven or eight spirulinas,” said Trickett.
“So nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed.”
Celeb endorsements on social media drive demand
He believes much of this demand comes from social media: “We are increasingly influenced by social media advertising – what were a couple of years ago quite obscure products like moringa or camu camu or lucuma are now more mainstream.
“We are influenced more by advertising on social media platforms, what people are seeing some Hollywood star is using to lose 30lbs in weight, so they’ll come in and ask for that,” he added.
Trickett said he sees a lot of businesses courting celebrity endorsements: “I wouldn’t like to name names on that, but you quite often will see a celebrity recommending something, or say they’re taking something. Relatively quickly you will get an uplift in sales on those products.”
He gave raspberry ketones as an example from recent years: “We have it in store, but we don’t promote that product at all – we have it just because people come in and ask for it.
“It’s continually being mentioned on social media for its benefits in losing weight, so you’ll get predominantly young women, but also men, will ask for raspberry ketones. The first thing we say is it doesn’t work, there’s no hard evidence it works – but they’ll say they’ve seen on Facebook that a celebrity takes it, so they want to buy it.”
Consumer concern about botanical purity
Trickett said product differentiation is key for health food retailers: “You can go into the high street and buy spirulina for a couple of pounds for 200g – whereas ours will £7 (€8.19) to £10 (€11.7) for 200g.
Product trust is especially important for botanicals, he said: “They tend to be seen as very pure, natural products – so consumers expect them to be contaminant-free, free of mercury and lead.”
Trickett compared the questions to previous concerns about products such as cod liver oil from North Sea cod, which had and still has a poor reputation, due to perceived pollution.
“I think the same thing is happening, with botanicals in particular – people are beginning to ask, is it free from heavy metals, is there any mercury in it, is there any arsenic in it.
“But in particular the botanicals – they’re used by people who want to eat clean, they don’t want the binders and fillers and all the other excipients in there,” he said.