Business Profile: My Organic Market

Store practices what it preaches

Environmental awareness is one of outlet's objectives

November 22, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Customers walking into the new My Organic Market in Jessup are first greeted by about a dozen different kinds of apples. Gala, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Ambrosia and Golden Delicious are just a few and, like all the produce at My Organic Market - known as MOM - the apples are organic.

The Jessup location, which opened in October, is the fourth store in the local chain, which opened in 1987 as a home-delivery and mail-order company called Organic Foods Express. Two years later, the company opened a store in Rockville, moving to a larger Rockville location in 1996. Other locations are in College Park and Alexandria, Va., and a fifth location is planned for early next year in Frederick.

With so many health food and organic food stores in the market, MOM has done a few things to set itself apart, said Lisa de Lima, a vice president. Unlike larger health food stores, MOM sells only organic produce, she said.

The Jessup store, which is about 8,000 square feet, stocks plenty of produce, as well as bulk items such as grains and beans. Other offerings include packaged sauces, salad dressings and cereals, as well as frozen items such as Amy's-brand pizzas, Boca Burgers and Ethnic Gourmet Indian meals.

A small bake shop in one corner sells breads and other items by Bonaparte Bakery in Baltimore, The Breadery in Ellicott City and Spring Mill Bakery of Bethesda, as well as packaged breads from well-known companies such as Vermont Bread and The Baker.

The store also sells coffee; vitamins and other supplements; organic makeup; soaps; lotions; pet foods, and Tushies brand diapers, which degrade faster in landfills.

Organic chocolates, prepared foods such as hummus and spinach pie, cheeses and yogurts are among the other items offered. The store tries to purchase items as close to home as possible, saving energy on transportation, de Lima said.

MOM also carries tofu in every form imaginable, as well as sweeteners, including honey and agave nectar, which comes from the agave plant.

In the past couple of years, the chain has taken steps to become more friendly to the environment. All the stores are run by windpower, said Scott Nash, owner of the chain, and have skylights that reduce the reliance on artificial lighting.

MOM seeks vendors who use wind power, such as those that make its store-brand coffee and bottled water, he said. Some parts of the store, such as the customer-service booth, are made with bamboo and other rapidly renewing materials, he said.

If a customer buys a yogurt in the store and asks for a spoon at the counter, the spoon will be made of corn syrup, so it degrades quickly, he said.

Signs throughout the store encourage customers to "think outside the bag." Shoppers are encouraged to reuse bags, and are given durable bags to use again and again.

Several times a year, employees will offer to check the tires of customer cars to make sure they are being as fuel-efficient as possible, Nash said. The company also offers rebates for employees who purchase gas-saving hybrid vehicles, and it gives programmable thermostats and other energy-saving devices to employees, he said.

The company has a goal of opening 15 more stores by 2015 and expanding into the Baltimore area, said Nash. He likes the Jessup location because it is close to Interstate 95 and Route 175.

"It's right in the middle of that grid," he said.

Nash, who said he has always cared about the environment, believes more than ever in doing what he can to protect and restore it.

"I really think most people care about the environment but don't do anything about it," he said.

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