While we can be tempted by the occasional burger, it seems that the UK population is becoming increasingly conscious of what it eats. Vegetarian and vegan diets are hugely popular, and the concept of ‘wellness’ is not only being embraced by the public, but it appears to be infinitely marketable too. It's no surprise, then, that health food shops are experiencing a resurgence in popularity – from locally-run small businesses to major chains like Holland & Barrett.
If you’re keen to enter the food industry but the idea of flipping burgers or frying chicken all day long doesn’t appeal to you, opening a health food shop may be a great alternative. From organic avocados to vitamins and supplements, gluten and dairy-free to ultra-local produce, health food is one of the big trends in 2019 and will continue to be in 2020.
A holistic approach to wellness
It’s rare to find a health food shop for sale in the UK, which is why you need to take a holistic approach to starting up your own health food business. In today’s market, you’re going to be doing business online as well as relying on passing footfall in the high street, so it’s worth changing your mindset and embracing both online and offline marketplaces.
General health food shops are also quite generic and stock a vast range of products that range from snail slime moisturisers through to organic fruit and veg, supplements, essential oils and everything in between. To be competitive, you need to think very carefully about what kind of health food business you want to develop and which direction you want to go in.
How big is the health food market?
The health food industry is massive in the UK. Everyone from the major supermarkets to small independent stores are shifting their focus to health and wellness, and the amount that the public spends on these food products is rocketing.
Insight into the industry
In 2017, sales of organic food and drink rose by six percent to over £2.2 billion. The majority of these sales weren’t through supermarkets, but via independent outlets and, interestingly, home delivery services such as ‘Hello Fresh’. When you consider that non-organic food sales rose by two percent in comparison (despite being a much larger overall percentage of the total UK food industry), it’s clear that customers are gravitating more towards quality organic and healthy food options, rather than heading for the traditional ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ alternatives.
Do I need to be a qualified nutritionist?
You don’t need to be a qualified nutritionist to open your own health food shop, but you do need to have a good understanding of your stock and the USPs (unique selling points) of each product. What you cannot do is make false claims as to the purity, beneficial effects or quality of your products – as is the case with any other business.
What skills do I need?
You will, however, need to have the key elements that any entrepreneur needs, whether you’re going it alone or are buying into a health shop franchise: determination, commitment and the ability to finance your venture.
Starting a health food shop: a quick guide
- Consider your target customer. Health food shops are seeing an increase in market share, albeit small in comparison to the supermarkets. However, those who do prefer to shop at health food stores are more inclined to pay a higher price for premium quality products. If you're thinking about opening a health food store, it pays to understand your potential customer base, which is predominantly 30+ and with a higher level of disposable income.
- Create a business plan. This is a great way for you to organise your ideas in a clear, detailed manner. For more information about how to write a good business plan, click here.
- Avoid ‘fads. Try to avoid ‘fads’ or the latest fashions in food. While they may initially be profitable, they cannot form the basis for a long-term plan that will last beyond the first few months.
- Focus your product offering. It’s also unwise to spread yourself too thinly unless your business is a franchise that has some serious support systems in place. So, rather than opting for a generic health food shop that sells a little bit of everything, try to pick an idea that is easily manageable, doesn’t require constant investment and has a tried and tested business model.
- Conduct thorough research into your ingredients. You need to strike a balance between quality and price, and find food suppliers that you can rely on. Look at online directories to find a reputable supplier and sign a contract that ensures you don’t suffer from price fluctuations further down the line.
- Don’t use overly technical terms. Of course, you should highlight to your customers what makes you stand out from the competition. But be careful not to use overly complicated jargon that actually ends up confusing them. Inform customers of what they are - or aren’t - eating, but be careful about the image you are portraying to them. Elaborate language may be suitable for some customers, but others might find it alienating and make it difficult for them connect with your brand.
- High street or online? There are pros and cons to both online and high street businesses. Initial investments in high-street businesses can be high, but with the British high street under increasing pressure, it may be easier to find a vacant shop with good footfall for a reasonable rate. Online businesses tend to have lower overheads but bear in mind that if you plan to take on a health food shop UK franchise, then you're going to need storage space for your stock, which may also need to be chilled to keep perishable stock fresh. The best option is to think about a little bit of both by offering an online service and a ‘real world’ selling platform at farmers’ markets, fairs and pannier markets.
- Recruit your employees. Hire a reliable team of employees who you can count on to manage your health food store when you’re not there. Reflect on your own personal skills and use these to your advantage, and hire employees for roles you can’t fulfil.
- Market your business. Market your business in environments where potential customers are. Therefore, on top of advertising on social media, in the local newspaper and on the radio, you might want to hand out flyers at leisure centres and gyms. Customers who value healthy, organic food might also be health-conscious in other areas of their life, for instance their fitness. Or, you could ask a local school if you could set up a pop-up shop at a sports event, so potential customers can sample the products and learn about your brand philosophy.
Home delivery franchises
One of the most significant health food movements is the ‘fresh box', where customers sign up and have their groceries delivered to them either daily or weekly. The principle is to supply customers with no more than they need to create delicious, healthy meals with minimal waste, using local producers and ultra-fresh, in-season ingredients.
Exciting franchise opportunity
Another franchise that we're particularly keen on is the wonderfully innovative Humpit. If you love the exotic flavours of the Middle East, then this £30,000 buy-in could be just the thing. It specialises in pickles, sauces and a unique product, HUMPTEA. Low fit-out costs for sit-down and takeaway options make it an interesting variation on the health food store theme.
For more top franchise options, check out our list of the best UK food franchises in 2019, take your pick from our top five food franchises, or get a little inside information on running a healthy restaurant with our article on restaurant business plans: it’s easy with franchising.
The health food industry is without a doubt one of the biggest and fastest growing sectors in the country, with a billion-pound marketplace that’s getting bigger by the month. With new options such as ‘fresh box’ deliveries making an interesting alternative to traditional format health food shops, heavy initial investment in a high street store is not required.
A growing marketplace populated by customers with high standards and higher levels of disposable income means that profit margins are higher, and health food shop franchises represent a buoyant and profitable alternative to the usual sandwich or burger food franchises.
It’s best to avoid ‘fads’ and look at a franchise that offers a long-term basis for a successful business, but do bear in mind that you will need to consider some high-cost investments such as chilled storage space and branded vehicles suitable for carrying fresh produce.
Becky Martin, Point Franchise ©