Providing the highest quality fresh food made from scratch to conscientious eaters—and doing so with the utmost attention to detail in assortment and merchandising—it seems almost too easy to suggest that this is a recipe for success in a competitive urban retail market, but Erewhon Market’s success over its history bears out the simple recipe’s efficacy. In April of 2018, the independent retailer opened its fourth location in Santa Monica, California. And with its intricately curated, fresh-food focused small-format stores, the community-focused grocer seems uniquely suited to take on a shifting retail landscape.
I recently had the opportunity to touch base with Erewhon’s CEO Tony Antoci to learn more about the natural grocery chain that’s been anticipating trends and serving the greater Los Angeles area for roughly a half century.
Q: What do you think has made Erewhon such an enduring part of the Southern California grocery landscape?
Tony Antoci: Los Angeles definitely is the capital of health and spirituality. From its very beginnings 50 years ago, Erewhon has been a beacon for those seeking the very best products and a holistic approach to optimal wellness.
But I would say one of the most important facets of Erewhon’s success is our community—it is a synergistic relationship—they drive us to constantly improve, and we rise to meet, and hopefully exceed, their expectations. Entrepreneurs know that because we are independent, we are able to nurture and launch smaller brands. It means a lot to make it onto our shelves and we are very proud to serve as that debut for so many budding businesses.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Erewhon’s values as they relate to fresh food: How are those values reflected in the company’s assortment?
TA: Everything we make is made from scratch—from our 36-hour slow-cooked bone broths to our breads and baked goods to the sauces to our cold pressed juices. We use the highest quality ingredients—the same organic produce, the same dairy and meats that we sell in the store. We cook seasonally. We work with small farms and suppliers. Currently, our cafes are 95 percent organic; our goal is to be 100 percent organic by 2020.
Q: We hear a lot about the shrinking center store and the growth of the “store periphery”; would you say that fresh food is a driving force in Erewhon’s continued success?
TA: Oddly enough, we don’t think so much in terms of those zones. Our aisles are highly curated and designed to provide discovery around every corner. We don’t carry a ton of each SKU, so we can operate with a smaller footprint compared to other retailers.
Again, because we are independent, we are able to discontinue a product if our clientele doesn’t respond to it. However, if we believe in a product, we will give it the time and support to find its following. It’s a very hands-on approach.
Q: If you had to pick one thing about Erewhon’s approach to fresh food or the store periphery that makes the grocery unique, what would it be?
TA: Definitely our high standards.
Q: How are each of Erewhon’s stores different in terms of the needs of its customers? What are some of the ways in which Erewhon’s Los Angeles location, for example, differs from its new Santa Monica store in terms of shoppers’ needs? How do the needs of the stores’ individual shoppers affect assortment and merchandising?
TA: I think a more interesting question is, how is the Erewhon shopper different than other shoppers? Our community shares a passion for artisanal products, with a focus on local, and with clear traceability. They are willing to try new products, they want to support innovators, and they realize shopping at Erewhon is an investment in their health.
Oftentimes, our clients introduce us to local products, so we might test it at one store first. We definitely are seeing an increase in new customers—people who may have shopped at other natural retailers and are ready for the next step in their wellness journey. I would have to say in general, if you have an Erewhon in your neighborhood, it definitely becomes a gathering place…and that gathering place reflects the neighborhood.
Q: How much do emerging trends in grocery—things like the rise of the “grocerant,” for example, affect Erewhon’s day-to-day operations and long-term strategic efforts? Are there ways in which Erewhon’s approach has anticipated trends like plant-based eating and the grocerant?
TA: This might sound a bit cocky, but we aren’t really driven by trends, because we are considered by many to be the ones who create them! Everything we do, and the level to which we do it, has made Erewhon a mecca for so many. We are constantly creating new menu items for vegan, paleo, raw, keto, gluten-free…you name it. We are leaders in adaptogens and functional foods, not because it’s what was trending at Expo, but because it’s what our recipe and tonic developers were excited about sharing.
We do it not because it’s fashionable, but because our clients are constantly striving to live their best lives. We do it because it is what our entrepreneurs are creating to solve issues in their own lives. We do it because it’s what excites our shoppers and it’s what drives us each day.
Our long-term strategic efforts are not based on anticipated trends like plant-based as much as it is our working to serve as many neighborhoods as we can without compromising our standards. That’s the Erewhon way and that’s why we are so fortunate to have such a loyal, passionate and engaged group of people supporting us…on both sides of the counter.
For more retail news as it pertains to the dairy, deli, bakery, and specialty food spaces, keep reading Deli Market News.