Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Independent Grocer Memo: From Mrs. Gooch's to the Auto Body Business, Then Back to Retail, Chris Kysar is On A Healthy Organic Foods Retailing Roll

Natural-Organic Foods Retailing USA

One of the early and most successful natural and organic food retailing pioneers was Southern California-based Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Market, which started with one store founded by a former teacher who suffered from food allergies. She became frustrated about not being able to find the types of chemical-free and additive-free "clean" and healthy foods she needed as a shopper in other natural food stores, so started her own -- Mrs. Gooch's.

Over a number of years, Mrs. Gooch's grew into a multi-store natural and organic foods mini-chain in Southern California. In 1993 it was acquired by Whole Foods Market, Inc., which at that time was a fairly small, fledgling natural foods retailer itself. In fact, the acquisition of Mrs. Gooch's really was the start of Whole Foods' rapid expansion program, which finds it today with about 280 stores and $8 billion in annual sales, as well as being the subject of an antitrust legal case by the FTC regarding its acquisition last year of Wild Oats Market, Inc.

From 1983 -to- 1992 Chris Kysar was the director of purchasing for the original, pre-Whole Foods acquired Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Market chain.

After that, Kysar (pictured at left) made a career change, opening up his own auto body shop. But natural and organic foods retailing was still in his blood, so he closed the body shop and took a job as a bagger at a natural foods store, starting back at the bottom of the healthy foods chain, so to speak.

He then moved to Sonoma, in Northern California, where he operated his own natural foods store for five years, until it burned down in 2000.

In 2001, Kysar heard about a small natural foods store, Earth Song, for sale in the small Gold Rush city of Nevada City, which is not far from Sacramento. He bought the store in August, 2001.

After operating Earth Song for about a year as it was, Kysar changed the store's name to California Organics in 2002 and began converting the store's product mix to 100% organic food items and to near 100% other organic products.

Today the store boasts of having the only 100% certified organic service meat counter in the nation. All of the fresh produce sold in the store is organic and is certified by a third-party inspection and testing firm as being so.

Additionally, California Organics' in-store grill and prepared foods operation (which includes eating inside the market) uses 100% organic ingredients for its made-from-scratch meals, side dishes and desserts.

The independent natural-organic grocer has operated California Organics successfully since 2001, incorporating many of the ideas and the buying and merchandising experience he gained all those years heading up purchasing for Mrs. Gooch's, along with applying the single-store entrepreneurial skills he developed operating his store in Sonoma, growing the business significantly.

Kysar's grown the business at California Organics so much in fact that he's ran out of room, and wants not only a bigger but a more visible location for the independent organic foods market.

And the organic products grocer has big plans to do just that. Those plans start with relocating the store into a much larger building, a former furniture store in the city, which he plans to remodel and have open by the middle of next year.

The Union newspaper, which serves the Nevada City area, has a profile today about Chris Kysar and his California Organics independent organic foods market.

Read the profile, "California Organics looks to expand on Broad Street," here.

Chris Kysar and his California Organics market is another example of how numerous independent grocers of all formats -- be they natural-organic, upscale, specialty or discount -- find a niche in the U.S. food and grocery retailing industry and not only survive but thrive against the giant chain operators. It's all about combining the fundamentals of food retailing with the creation of points of differentiation, and then executing each and every day.

[Photo credit: John Hart/The Union]

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