Spotlight on Nature’s Food Patch Market & Cafe
Selected by OCA as one of the 2013 ‘Diligent Dozen” Right to Know Grocers
Laurie Shamone-Powers, Store Director of Nature’s Food Patch Market and Café, has been living and breathing organics and non-GMO for 15 years. As one of our readers, who nominated the Clearwater, Fla.-based market for our Top Right to Know Grocer’s award, told us, Nature’s Food Patch is “one of the most ethical stores” around.
Laurie began her retail career in 1972, in a Florida food co-op. Since then, she’s earned a reputation as an industry leader for her commitment to taking aggressive, and comprehensive, action against GMOs.
One of the earliest crusaders against GMOs, Laurie stepped up her commitment to taking on GMOs in 2012, when she hired a full-time GMO researcher and tasked her with sifting through the store’s entire inventory and identifying all products that contained GMOs.
Today, that researcher, Patience Melton, works closely with suppliers, screening all products for any ingredients that might contain GMOs. She encourages manufacturers to remove suspect ingredients from all products that aren’t already GMO-free. When all else fails, Patience recruits customers to bombard companies’ social media networks with GMO-free messages.
Among the many things that make Nature’s Food Patch so popular are Non-GMO movie nights, October Non-GMO Month activities. And of course, those bold GMO labels on the few products the store carries that still contain GMOs.
Nature’s Food Patch is no stranger to awards. The company has received a number of popular local awards, including the local Chamber of Commerce 2012 Business of the year. Hats off to one of OCA’s Top “Diligent Dozen” Right to Know Grocers!
Q. When did your store decide to take action to protect your customers from GMOs?
A: For 15 years Nature’s Food Patch has been actively involved in fighting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). As early as the late 90’s, our Store Director Laurie Powers sat on the National Board of Directors of the Natural Products Association. Our store has always played an active role in protecting our customers through education. In 2003, Nature’s Food Patch was one of the first to host Jeffrey Smith, a leading consumer advocate who promotes healthier non-GMO choices. We have also held screenings of films such as Genetic Roulette and Hungry for Change. When labeling bills were continuously shot down, Laurie realized it was time to take an independent stance. As we already had Non-GMO Project Verified products on our shelves, the next step was to label all products that contained GMOs.
Q: How did your store’s GMO education, labeling and purchasing policies and practices come about?
A: Our current GMO policies came about as a culmination of the 15 years we’ve spent protesting GMOs. For that long we’ve been trying to educate our consumers about the existence of GMOs. But awareness on the subject was low at first. With the founding of the Non-GMO Project in 2007, awareness began to grow. And now, with social media, this issue has finally come to the forefront.
When our store director, Laurie Powers noticed the consumers were taking more of an interest in GMOs, she knew it was time to take a drastic step forward. She hired a full time GMO Researcher to go through the entire inventory and label all products on Nature’s Food Patch shelves that contain GMOs. We also no longer bring in any new products that have GMOs and have also removed a lot GMO-containing items from our store.
We continue to focus on education. We hold lectures, pass out brochures and use social media to keep people informed about their food. One of the big things that we try to get people to understand is what the current at-risk products are. It can get very confusing for the uninformed and especially since there are no label requirements. We believe knowledge is power…hence we deserve the right-to-know.
Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of keeping GMOs out of your store?
A: When we come across an exciting new product with at-risk ingredients it is always a shame and very disappointing to find out it has GMOs. We want to support independent companies, so ensuring your product is non-GMO is vital to be a new product in our store.
Q: Please share your thoughts about GMOs and livestock feed as they relate to your local and regional meat and dairy producers.
A: We source as much organic and 100-percent grass-fed beef products as possible. A lot of people don’t realize feed in meat is a big issue. Our staff is equipped with the knowledge that any non-organic and non-100-percent Grass-fed beef product is at risk of containing GMOs.
Q: Please share a few success stories in getting manufacturers to remove or replace GMO ingredients in their products.
A: When first starting this project I contacted an independent noodle company. The owner had no knowledge of GMOs or that they were in her product. After a quick briefing, she decided to look for non-GMO alternatives in her products. They are now Non-GMO Project verified!
Q: What customer feedback has your store received about your GMO policies and practices?
A: Our customers are very excited! With our continuous efforts of education and transparency our customers are giving us only positive comments and encouragement. You only need to look at our Facebook page to see this. After being chosen as one of the Top 12 Right-to-Know Grocers by the Organic Consumers Association, our Facebook page blew up overnight! We received comments, private messages and emails about how happy people were with what we are doing, and how they wished we would build a store near them. We were overwhelmed by the compliments and positive support!
Q: What tools could OCA or the natural foods industry provide that would be most helpful in assisting your store and other grocers in keeping GMOs out of the food supply?
A: OCA helps proved accurate information on GMOs and this is the most important resource. Informed consumers are more apt to vote with their dollar on Non-GMO foods.
Q: What would you like to suggest to other grocers contemplating taking action(s) to keep products with GMO ingredients off of the shelves?
A: Listen to what customers want. Non-GMO foods are being demanded in every city. Make sure your buyers know that Non-GMO is an essential part of getting a product onto a shelf.
On Mission and Values…
Q: What makes your store special in the competitive natural foods marketplace?
A: We put our customers first in every situation. We will do what it takes to make a customer happy. First off, we listen to them. Feedback is very important, and we continuously evaluate it for ways in which we can improve. Our customers get a lot of individual attention. We want their grocery shopping to be an experience… one filled with good food, good health & good people!
Q: Please share with OCA readers your store’s mission and values.
A: Our vision
- Our vision is to serve and inspire our community in order to build a healthier world.
- Providing quality natural and organic products
- Enthusiastic and courteous service
- Providing excellence in nutritional and holistic health information and education
- Honesty, integrity and ethics in all aspects of business
- Nature’s Food Patch is a community grocery store dedicated to providing its valued customers with the finest quality natural and organic products. We are committed to organic farming and sustainable agriculture as the future of world food production. We aim to be a company that enthusiastically serves and respects our customers and team members alike. We strive to operate with integrity so as to be deserving of your trust. Through teaching about natural lifestyle and holistic health we hope to contribute to your personal well-being and healing.
Q: How does your store express these values through your purchasing policies?
A: When purchasing products we look very closely at the ingredients. We have a list of non-allowable ingredients and practices including, but not limited t,o GMOs, anything artificial, irradiation, bleached or bromated flour, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones and inhumane treatment.
Nature’s Food Patch is dedicated to providing fresh, flavorful and nutritious natural and organic foods. We value local & sustainable companies, too. Most importantly, we listen to our customers’ requests.
Q: What are your current store goals? Goals in five years (if different)?
A: Our goal is to have every product in our store labeled if it contains GMOs. We also hope to phase out all GMO products within the coming years.
Q: What would you like OCA to communicate to Monsanto and its GMO allies on behalf of your store and customers?
A: Monsanto, please label your products that contain GMOs. Ultimately we believe that Mother Nature knew what was good for our health. But let the consumer decide. We stand for transparency and 100-percent consumer choice. Without a national labeling policy, many consumers have no idea where GMOs are hidden, and it is their right to know!
Q: What aspect(s) of retailing do you find most enjoyable and most gratifying?
A: Customer satisfaction is the most enjoyable part of my job. When customers know we care about their health and wellbeing, it builds a community in the store. We have a family that goes beyond our staff and extends to everyone who walks through our doors (and these days, who visits us on-line as well).
Q: How did you get interested in natural foods retailing, and what keeps you in the business?
A: I have always pursued health food. For a number of years I worked at a conventional grocery store and was known as “organic girl.” When I discovered a store with a goal to serve and inspire the community for a healthier world, I knew it was where I needed to be. The simple goal of inspiring the community is what has held me in the natural food business.
Q: What else would you like to share about your store with OCA readers?
A: Nature’s Food Patch has been enthusiastically embraced by our health-minded community and has continued to grow, going through a major relocation and remodel in 1996 and another remodel and expansion in 2010! “The Patch”, as it is affectionately called by the locals, is a friendly gathering place, known for its commitment to organic foods, quality natural products, community involvement and health education.