As Britain’s health food store retailers find themselves on the frontline of a national effort to keep the country nourished, healthy and protected during the coronavirus crisis, Jim Manson reports on Operation Healthy Lockdown
At 8.20pm on Monday 23 March the Prime Minister announced that Britain was going into lockdown. All non-essential retail businesses would close from midnight. In the small hours of Tuesday morning came confirmation that health food stores would stay open. It’s been business not as usual ever since.
At the time of writing, Britain’s lockdown has just been extended for a further three weeks; it seems likely that restrictions could continue well into summer. Parts of the population may be asked to self-isolate for as long as a year. The ramifications for health – physical, emotional, societal – are enormous. Amid all this, natural products retailers find themselves on the frontline of a nationwide effort to keep the country nourished, healthy and protected.
Welcome to the new normal
The ‘new normal’ arrived abruptly for health stores. The sense of being in uncharted territory felt very real for Josine Atsma, owner of Stirling Health Food Store. “We really didn’t have anything to compare this to. We’re still learning as we go.”
So, how has business been holding up since the lockdown began, and what is Stirling Health Food Store doing differently? “Business overall is up. We had a ridiculously busy period in the week before the lockdown, better than Christmas – we were up something like 300% on usual store sales. A third of the shop was empty by the end of the week. Since then we’ve been about 10% up, although actual footfall is down.”
The biggest change, says Atsma, is how people are shopping. “We used to get one click and collect order every four or five days. Now we’re getting between five and seven each day.”
Atsma says she is now focusing on ‘the essentials, the food products that people really need to have’. To do this she’s freed up shelf space normally occupied by home-brew products. “It’s made way for flour and other important things like gluten-free products. I think we have a bit of responsibility as retailers to make the essentials available. That’s the way I feel, and that’s the way I’m running the business.”
Going the extra mile
Avril McCracken, administrator at the National Association of Health Stores (NAHS), says the current crisis has shown the trade at its very best. “So many retailers have really been going the extra mile for their customers and communities.”
The NAHS estimates that health stores have been about 10% down on sales since the lockdown, but that pre-lockdown panic buying will mean that year-to-date sales should be holding up overall. “One member told us they’d had 800 people in their store on a single day at the peak of the frenzy,” says McCracken.
She adds that certain product categories are still in high demand. “Vitamin C, vitamin D, beta-glucan are all selling well. Grocery staples, canned products and dried goods, like porridge, are also selling strongly. Aloe vera gel is flying off shelves as people try to find solutions to dry skin. Natural sanitizers too, and hair dye. We’re seeing a progression of needs!”
Mark McCarty, co-director of distributor World Foods Brand Management, says business is booming. A key driver of current high sales levels is the large number of new consumers coming to
An opportunity to make new customers
Quite a lot of those new customers will be heading to Boots or Amazon. McCarty wants to see them become health store regulars. “I think health food stores have an opportunity to create a completely new interest in their businesses. They can become storage hubs for products that you simply can’t get elsewhere.”
“A lot of stores are operating on a 10am-3pm basis, using the rest of the day to pack mail orders. The shift in the trade towards click and collect and home delivery has been extraordinary,” says McCarty. “Just take our business with Holland & Barrett. Before the crisis about 90% of our own sales went through in store, and 10% online. The week after lockdown we were looking at figures of 30% in store, 70% online.”
World Foods reports sales up 30% on last April. “Bio-Strath sales are up 30-40%. We shifted probably six months’ worth of Hubner ImmunPRO Infection Blocker in a week. We’ve got a really nice oregano oil – another anti-viral herb – that we’re importing, and that’s doing really well. And we’ve got high hopes for Virillin, a new Immunity product from Dr John Briffa.”
Finding a rhythm
The pressure on wholesalers in recent weeks has been intense. “I think everyone was struggling right at the beginning of this,” comments Nathalie Spencer at Suma. “There was such a surge in demand, it was just incredible. Our priority has always been to get food out to as many people as possible.
“As well as the huge extra demand, we’ve obviously also had to implement strict social distancing measures ourselves in the warehouse and office, and new kerbside deliveries. But we have now found a rhythm in all of this, and we are learning and innovating all the time.”
Suma also reports high demand for flour, pulses, beans, lentils and other dried and canned goods. “People are going back to basics; they want wholefoods,” explains Spencer.
The four phases of wellness buying in the corona crisis
Research by US wellness specialist SPINS identifies four distinct phases of consumer behaviour in the corona crisis: Proactive Self-Care & Wellbeing (the period of growing awareness about the virus); Pantry Prep & Loading (less politely known as panic buying!); Quarantine; and New Normal (the still unknown future that we will enter after the main lockdown is lifted).
The proactive self-care period was characterized by a huge uplift in sales of vitamins and supplements, digestive enzymes and herbal products. The prep and loading phase saw continued strong sales of VMS, but also a surge in demand for grocery staples and household products. In the quarantine itself, proactive healthcare is continuing, and is being joined by lots of additional meal planning (scratch cooking and basic ingredients buying).
• Vitamin C and elderberry have dominated in supplement sales during the COVID-19 crisis
• There has been a steep rise in purchases based on the idea of ‘self-care food as medicine’
• All forms of protein are in demand. Consumers are searching out nutritious proteins to add to home-made recipes
• ‘Better for you and the planet’ products are still selling well. Consumers are still making mindful choices during this pandemic.
Staying healthy in lockdown
“Especially during this crisis, and the long periods of self-isolating, we should be eating for both our physical and psychological wellbeing,” says personal trainer, former athlete and brand owner Tom Oliver. Here are his top tips on how to achieve this:
Protein – important for repair and maintenance of body tissue, hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, tofu and tempeh. Protein powders and bars can be useful additions to the diet.
Complex carbohydrates – provide slow-releasing energy as well as fibre, needed for bowel health and hormonal balance.
Beneficial fats – vital for a healthy brain, bones, skin, hair and nail health, and hormonal balance. Good sources include olive oil, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils and nut or seed butters.
Plants to the rescue – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and sea vegetables. These have many beneficial effects including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties. They also act as prebiotics to support the gut microbiome.
Herbs and spices – these have many health-giving properties including immune-supportive and antioxidant effects.
Support your gut – fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are good sources of pre- and probiotics. Supplementing with probiotics is another good way to support gut health.
Nutrients to support the immune system – nutrient deficiencies decrease immune defences and increase susceptibility to infection. Nutrients that have been shown to support the immune system and improve health include: vitamins, A, C, D and E, B vitamins, zinc, selenium and probiotics.
Bee Health Propolis
Propolis is a natural substance collected by honey bees from buds and trees containing tree resin, essential oils, waxes and bioflavonoids. Propolis offers an array of benefits for many ailments and is one of nature’s richest sources of bioflavonoids for immune support. Bee Health guarantees the bioflavonoids present are naturally occurring flavonoids, with no synthetic substances added. This unique natural substance is subject to tests for potency and quality.
NEW Doves Farm Organic Coconut Flour
Organic Coconut Flour (500g) is the latest addition to Doves Farm’s award-winning organic flour range. Made using the finest sustainably grown Sri Lankan coconuts, this versatile flour is certified organic, vegan and gluten free, and is also high in fibre and protein. Appealing to those looking for alternative flours with multiple nutritional credentials, coconut flour has become increasingly popular with growth of 55.9% over the last 2 years.* The launch also coincides with Doves Farm’s bold and contemporary brand refresh which has begun hitting shelves this spring. *Kantar Worldpanel, 52 w/e 21 April 2019
Dr.Bronner’s Peppermint Organic Hand Hygiene Spray
Introducing, to the UK, our new Dr.Bronner’s Peppermint Organic Hand Hygiene Spray. It kills germs with a simple formula: organic ethyl alcohol, water, organic peppermint oil, and organic glycerin—that’s it! None of the nasty chemicals you find in conventional sanitizers, but just as effective. Our Organic Hand Hygiene Spray is perfect for using on the go, on your little ones’ sticky hands and faces, spray on screens & surfaces in public bathrooms, buses, trains, planes! Use as air freshener or deodorizer—spray into air for wonderful aroma. Sanitize with a clean conscience. Fair-Trade and Vegan certified. All-One!
CureC™ Liposomal Vitamin C with Quercetin
CureC™ Liposomal Vitamin C with Quercetin (180ml / 6fl.oz) is a high-performance nutritional supplement that utilises an advanced liposomal delivery system to maximise nutrient absorption. Each serving delivers a powerful combination of 1000mg liposomal Vitamin C, 1000mg (non-hydrogenated) Phosphatidylcholine, and 175mg Quercetin to help naturally support cardio health, lower histamine levels, stronger immune response, energy production, and normal collagen formation for healthy, radiant-looking skin. When held in the mouth liposomal Vitamin C is up to 9x better absorbed than capsules, tablets, and powders. Can be enjoyed by all ages at varying doses. No mixing required – delicious taken straight from the spoon! Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Nature’s Answer Ashwagandha is unbeatable on purity and potency, with a super-concentrated dose of 2000mg per serving, not to be confused with less potent tinctures. The extraction process uses Nature’s Answer’s proprietary method – cold Bio-Chelated, yielding a Holistically Balanced Advanced Botanical Fingerprint extract in the same synergistic ratios as in the plant. The extract is in vegetable glycerin and purified water as a liquid supplement for fast absorption into the body. Alcohol- and gluten-free. Ashwagandha is what is known as an adaptogen, a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress.
BerryWell for Immune Support
Lifeplan Products Limited
Tel: 01455 556281
BerryWell – Lifeplan’s BerryWell capsules combine a high-strength black Elderberry extract with 100% of the NRV of vitamin C and zinc, which both contribute to the normal function of the immune system. Elderberries are rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and are responsible for the deep purple colour of the Elderberry. This one-a-day capsule contains no fillers and is registered with the Vegan Society.
Pure New Zealand Manuka Honey
Honey New Zealand is one of the few manuka honey companies who has a privately owned and fully integrated model – from hive to home. From the land, bee hives and beekeepers, to the extraction and packing facilities through to exporting, Honey New Zealand owns and manages every step of the process. Thus ensuring the integrity of our true New Zealand Mānuka Honey.
Bee energised and Bee rested
Studies show lack of sleep and physical exhaustion can weaken the immune system. There are a number of plant based ingredients which have been shown to help and many of them can be found in Bee energised & Bee rested supplements. The two complement each other well- Bee energised helps banish brain fog and lethargy during the day (plus benefits build with time) & Bee rested is ideal to take before bed to help you nod off faster and wake up less in the night. These highly nourishing supplements have won numerous awards. See what the buzz is about!
Biethica Pure Vitamin C powder
Vitamin C has been one of the go to products in the past few months both following its positive media exposure and its strong connection with immunity enhancement. Worldwide storages and increased demand for higher doses has led consumers to look for more convenient and economical ways to take this important nutrient . World Foods Brand Management have created 2 pack sizes providing a 250g and 500g pure vitamin C powder, providing a 1000mg daily scoop dose at just over £0.04. The dose can be increased to up to 3 scoops divided per day ( 3g) for an adult.
Pill-free vitamin D
Intra-oral spray technology has been used medicinally for many years, but it was the absorption research with Dr. Charles Heard and his team at Cardiff University in 2007, that harnessed it for nutritional supplementation. The result was a fast, effective, and convenient delivery mechanism, now used by health professionals worldwide. Each spray provides the active ingredient in micro-sized droplets that permeate the soft tissue of the inner cheek, delivering the essential nutrients into the rich vein system below. This allows the formulation to quickly enter the bloodstream, bypassing primary digestion, for optimal absorption. A head-to-head clinical trial, undertaken by BetterYou in conjunction with Sheffield University and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019, resulted in all participants achieving adequate vitamin D status after just 21 days of daily supplementation, including those that presented as severely deficient at the beginning of the trial–concluding that an oral spray offers a fast and effective method of elevating vitamin D levels within all populations.?
The research also identified that of participants that expressed a preference in the delivery method, over 70 per cent said that they preferred the oral spray preparation for its ease of use and better taste, supporting supplementation compliance. BetterYou’s award-winning Vitamin D oral sprays are available in a range of strengths to support the whole family.
Bio-Strath ( Strath) celebrates its Diamond anniversary in the UK next year. During those 60 years Bio-Strath has conducted numerous clinical studies to prove its ability to enhance all areas of health which are all connected to reduced absorption of nutrients in the digestive system.
One clinical study clearly demonstrated that Strath dramatically strengthened the levels of immunocytes during infection which it is now believed to be related to its catalytic effect on its absorption of nutrients which was confirmed by the 2018 bioavailability study.
Immunpro – This unique lozenge has seen sales increase 10 fold during the 1st quarter of 2020
As consumers flocked on line to see what where the best preventive supplements, Immunpro stood out with pages of 5 star reviews
The product was developed following the H1N1 virus as researchers searched for potential plant extracts which would block infection.
Containing Cistus which contains high levels of Polyphenols which coat the throat creating a physical barrier. Due to extreme demand Immunpro has been out of stock but will return in early June
Oregano4life wild oregano oil is 100% essential oil from oregano that is organically cultivated in Greece and distilled exclusively with steam, without the use of solvents or other chemical substances. Due to its high concentration in carvacrol (>86)% and low concentration in thymol (<3%) the oregano essential oil possesses excellent anti-viral and antibacterial properties used both topically or internally. Available as a 100% pure oil ( must be diluted) or a diluted 10% oil in pure organic olive oil Oregano4life sets the highest standards for this remarkable herb.
Otosan are leaders in naturally formulated products for ear, nose and throat across Europe. Focusing on specific treatment areas often only found within the Pharma area Otosan provide natural solutions using organic extracts where possible to avoid typical side effects found in chemical formulations. Otosan throat spray utilizes Beta Glucans ,hedge mustard, Thyme and orange peel to soothe the throat while strengthening the important mucus membrane. The range includes ; Adult and baby nasal sprays, Manuka cough syrup and ear sprays and drops
Virillin has been formulated by Dr John Briffa – a medical doctor and award-winning health writer with 30 years’ experience in natural medicine. One of Virillin’s key ingredients is a concentrated extract of the Indian herb Andrographis. This has known immune-stimulating properties, and several studies show it has clear anti-viral action. Another of Virillin’s essential elements is Black Elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra). This plant has a long history of use in the treatment of fever, and research shows it can speed relief from viral infections including the flu. Virillin also contains zinc ascorbate, both of which are recognised as important immune-supporting nutrients. Virillin can be taken daily for general immune support and protection, as well as at an increased dosage during an active infection.
Inhalo DSI dry salt inhaler
A healthy respiratory system is key for fighting infection and natural salt therapy has for centuries been used to improve lung health
Inhalo DSI have brought this valuable therapy into the 21st Century with the first truly portable salt mine. Studies carried out with Inhalo bronchial inhaler on Asthma and COPD patients has shown dramatic improvements in outcomes while the nasal inhaler is providing significant relief to allergy sufferers. Inhalo DSI is featuring in National press and health titles through 2020