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Freshness counts at Pomme Natural Market

Vancouver grocer prides itself on organic, pesticide-free foods

Natural grocers like Pomme Natural Market are setting new standards of quality and affordability.

There was a time when shopping for organic produce often meant settling for brown, mushy bananas and vegetables whose best days seemed long past. Sure, these dusty offerings were pesticide- and hormone-free, but often at triple the price of their glossy, non-organic cousins. Happily, as demand for healthy produce continues to increase, natural grocers like Pomme Natural Market are setting new standards of quality and affordability.

This growing chain is the brainchild of Ed Low, David Arnsdorf, Rasool Rayani and Craig Hermanson, Vancouver Island residents whose two mainland stores are about to be joined by a new Nanaimo location. For these guys, brown bananas just aren’t an option.

“I think a lot of conventional shoppers are very surprised by how good our stuff looks, and pleasantly surprised by the pricing as well,” says Hermanson, who serves as director of operations for the group. “There used to be such a huge difference, but our organic bananas are always $0.99 a pound, as well as being fairtrade and sustainably produced.”

And they look great. In fact, the stores’ produce sections are one of their most appealing features: high-end lighting, chic d├ęcor and attractive fixtures that perfectly showcase the vibrant jewel tones provided by the fruits and vegetables themselves.

But food is only one aspect of Pomme Natural’s business model. Many organic shops still stock some pesticide-sprayed products and conventional ingredients.

“Everything we sell is all-natural or organic,” Hermanson points out. “We have everything a conventional grocery store has, including a full deli and products for the home. We also have a full supplement section, and an Eco store that has things like water bottles, forks, toys and clothing. Everything that is non-edible is also all-natural and sustainable.”

To accomplish this, Hermanson and his team source their stores’ products from a veritable cornucopia of suppliers, ranging from large international wholesalers to the lady up the street who makes their organic dog biscuits. The goal is one-stop shopping, aimed at both health enthusiasts and regular folks who want the convenience of a full-service grocery store without the pesticides and hormones.

It’s a concept championed by Hermanson, who spent nearly two decades with Save-On-Foods and several years as a store manager with Planet Organic. But Hermanson had his own vision for natural grocery, so when the ideal 16,000 square foot retail space came up in Port Coquitlam, he and his partners made their move and Pomme Natural Market was born.

Since then they’ve added a new 5,000-square-foot Vancouver location on Davie at Denman, and have already started putting their stamp on the newly acquired Island Naturals in Nanaimo.

It’s a fast pace, but Hermanson is enjoying the momentum. Next up on his agenda are plans for a full juice bar in each location, as well as attending the annual food show in Anaheim.  This is organic’s biggest event, showcasing new organic and natural products that can sometimes prove surprising for even the most seasoned grocer.

“Last year I found camel’s milk,” Hermanson says. “It was actually delicious. It tasted like a very rich cow’s milk, but we haven’t been able to get it into Canada yet. There also seems to be a growing movement for insects as a protein source. There are meals and flours made out of crickets, which I admit I was hesitant to try.”

Three stores and over 100 employees mean long hours for someone with a partner and two kids, but the growing chain’s string of successes is Hermanson’s ultimate motivator. He doesn’t even mind the hours of ferry travel necessary to oversee the PoCo, Vancouver and, now, Nanaimo locations.

“It gives me a chance to catch up on paperwork,” he laughs. “And it is a beautiful trip.”