Natural-food supermarkets on the way

January 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Texas, and New Orleans all have their own natural-food supermarkets, so why not the New York region?

"Pure unadulterated cost," said Frank Lampe, editor of the industry's trade journal, the Natural Foods Merchandiser.

High real estate costs might explain why there are no natural food supermarkets in New York City, but what about the suburbs?

Chris Kilham agrees that cost has been a factor, but there are other reasons. Mr. Kilham, whose company, Cowboy Marketing of Lincoln, Mass., is a consultant in the natural foods industry, said, "Up until now, there have been precious few people interested in opening natural food supermarkets."

With the arrival in the Washington area of the Fresh Fields chain, which is headed by entrepreneurs rather than people deeply committed to the natural foods movement, change is at hand. Of the owners of Fresh Fields, Mr. Kilham said, "Clearly, they didn't get into it because of personal conviction but because they saw a business opportunity."

Until interest in whole foods became more than a counterculture phenomenon, large natural food stores tended to develop in university communities such as Austin, Cambridge, Mass., and Berkeley, Calif.

"They had to open up in places that were ridiculously population-dense," Mr. Kilham said, "and the people had to be those who would be likely to shop in the stores, because the percentage of the population that does is so small. The suburbs of New York are not university communities."

Mr. Kilham predicted that the New York area would have whole-food supermarkets within the next two years. "Many more people are interested in shopping in them now," he said. "It's more convenient than it's ever been. Now you can go in and get

microwavable tofu lasagna entrees."

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