Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s: It’s not just about “organics”

In a recent RetailWire panel discussion, I comment on the growth of national and regional grocers taking a strong position on organic or “natural” foods. The question is whether “organic” is sufficient as a brand position to take on Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. But the bigger issue is whether “natural” is even the key to these two chains’ success. Here’s my point of view:

I question the premise that TJ’s and Whole Foods are successful because they are merely “organic grocery” retailers. So chains trying to crowd into that space (which also has plenty of competition from the big national grocery stores) need some brand differentiation in order to succeed. Fresh Market is another growing chain with a smaller footprint than a typical Whole Foods store.

There is not necessarily anything “natural” about Trader Joe’s well-edited assortment of private-brand packaged and frozen foods. Whole Foods is a lot more than its “organic” positioning because of the “foodie appeal” in its fresh meats and produce. So competitors looking to gain share really need to understand why these two chains are excelling.


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