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A 'Natural' fit with shoppers: Ice cream social lures residents on grocer's opening day

A worker prepares to install the grocery store's sign Feb. 23 (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst/The Columbia Press, Friday, March 9, 2018

The lure of ice cream, muffins and a chance to win free groceries, brought hundreds of shoppers to Youngs Bay Plaza for Natural Grocers’ two-day grand opening.

The all-organic GMO- and hormone-free food seller’s 21,800-square-foot Warrenton store was much anticipated.

“It’s a lovely store,” said Sandy Van Meer of Astoria, who was sampling elk and black-bean sliders from the catered spread set up in the education center at the back of the store. “It’s all delicious.”

As more people opt for healthier lifestyles, choice is essential, Van Meer said. “I love the (Astoria) Co-op, but it’s not as convenient for a lot of people who live out this way.”

Jessica Harris drove in from Cannon Beach for the grand opening.

“I’m impressed with the selection and it’s a beautiful set-up. And they have snacks, so that’s great,” Harris said as she searched through the health and beauty aisles. “They’ve got a good variety of price ranges – they’ve got products from $6 to $22 for face wash.”

Lilly Bermudez of Seaside, who was shopping in the grocery aisles, has made trips to Portland in search of healthful products.

“I love this store,” Bermudez said. “I love not having to go all the way to Portland. Now it’s 15 minutes as compared to an hour and 15 minutes. This is convenient.”

Natural Grocers has 140 stores in 19 states.

The company has been around since 1955, when Margaret and Philip Isely opened their first store in Lakewood, Colo. The company’s literature describes the Iselys as “struggling, idealistic young parents” searching for a way to help Margaret Isely improve after becoming ill following the birth of her second child.

The company they founded 63 years ago has remained a family-owned business focused on nutritional supplements and all things natural, organic and healthy. Employees spent a month learning about the company’s products, more than a dozen food and health classes are offered at each store every month, and nutritional counselors are available to customers at every location.

“We have 10,000 dietary supplement products just in our vitamin section,” said Michelle Larsen, who moved from Utah to become Warrenton’s nutritional health coach. She has been with the company two years and selling vitamins since 1998.

“I haven’t seen anything that compares with what we have here,” Larsen said. “All of our supplements go through a third-party screening to make sure what it says is in the bottle is actually in the bottle.”

Jamie Dunn of Warrenton left a 30-year job at Safeway to become Natural Grocers’ grocery manager. She spent a month training in Colorado.

“They are so into educating their employees and so into making food better in every aspect,” Dunn said. “The way they treat their employees is amazing.”

Making the switch was not a difficult decision, she said.

“It’s the way they really stand behind their products and work their principles. A lot of things, to me, just sounded right.”

Jessica Harris of Cannon Beach scours the skin-care products at Tuesday's opening night. (Cindy Yingst)

Shoppers make their way down the grocery aisle during the store's opening night event. (Cindy Yingst)

Chef Chris Holen of Baked Alaska talks with shoppers tasting the treats he prepared with Natural Grocers products. (Cindy Yingst)

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