Advocacy, politics, running a business and cool new products flavor the conversations at Natural Products Association MarketPlace. What else do you get when veteran retailers, politicians, NPA members and manufacturers converge in Las Vegas to talk shop? Bill Crawford, director of retail publishing programs for New Hope Natural Media, says NPAM is a true retailers’ show. “The attendees [at the show] are the true blue—they’re very committed to the industry’s retail population. I love their passion for the industry, their passion for their stores,” he said.

This year's show, June 23rd to 25th, is the 75th anniversary for MarketPlace. On Thurs., June 23rd at 4 p.m., Crawford, along with Natural Foods Merchandiser editor, Anna Soref, will present "NFM’s Market Overview: Implications and Applications for Retailers" at the Las Vegas Convention Center in room S231. Here’s a sneak peak:

Q: In what areas do you see sales rebounds from 2009?

A: It’s interesting to look at regional growth for a sales snapshot. Over the past 5 years, when you look at the Pacific region for example, sales have increased by about 45 percent. In the Mountain states growth is hitting 45 percent.

Q: What’s behind these impressive numbers?

A: I think it’s a function of natural and organic products becoming an integrated part of the diet and lifestyle of mainstream [consumers] in these parts of the country.

Q: Aside from unemployment, what else is impacting independent natural products store sales?

A: For the 5th year in a row the average number of miles per car has decreased again. I think it’s strictly an economic function, but where I think it’s a challenge is for the stores with the more limited inventory. It’s harder for someone to justify a trip to multiple outlets if products are available at just one store. So it creates a challenge for the smaller store to create a compelling reason for the consumer to shop with them when the same products are found elsewhere.

Q: Mass conventional stores are rolling out small-format stores in rapid succession. Is this a threat to natural products stores?

A: What they are calling a “small store” is, in a sense, on par with an average, or even larger-than-average, natural products store, so it’s really not a huge threat. When grocery stores get smaller they have to limit selection. And when natural stores have a smaller footprint, they have to have a more limited selection. So in one sense [smaller mass stores] may be teaching customers that you can find what you are looking for in a small footprint; a store doesn’t have to humongous to find what you need.

Q: We are constantly hearing about record unemployment numbers for the US in the news, but the numbers show natural products stores are doing well, how come?

A: We are seeing remarkably low unemployment for people with college degrees and higher unemployment for people with only high school diplomas. So the people who typically frequent natural products stores are still employed. And typically, natural products consumers are educated consumers—they understand what they’re eating and why and they understand the correlation between diet and health. They’ve also got the incomes to afford the premium price that goes along with a natural or organic product. 

Q: Mass stores are getting better at being wellness centers by offering staff dietitians, classes and education fairs. Is this something natural products stores should pay attention to?

A: Natural products retailers definitely need to take notice that mass grocery stores are making a big point of strategic emphasis on health. 78 percent of grocery chains are saying that a health and wellness strategy is vital for their success. 20 percent of grocery chains have in-store dietitians. If you think back 10 years ago would you have thought that grocery stores would have had in-store dietitians? Everyone, including Starbucks, is putting a big emphasis on health and wellness in their offerings. And as we’ve certainly seen over the last couple of years, there is a growing presence of natural and organic food in those channels.