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Mainstream Supermarkets Moving into Offering Healthy & Organic Foods

Big-name supermarket chains nationwide are offering more organic and health-oriented foods to consumers, in a move to capture some of the success enjoyed by natural markets such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe's.

According to supermarket consultant Phil Lempert, Whole Foods "changed the game" for "Big Middle" traditional supermarkets. They are now seeking ways to grab a piece of the 11.1 percent annual growth Whole Foods has experienced in the past five years. The Big Middle -- a major part of the $480 billion grocery industry -- has more or less been stagnant in recent years, so it decided to make some changes to meet the demands of consumers who want healthier food options.

Safeway -- which is one of the nation's largest grocery chains with 1,775 stores nationwide -- has opened nearly 500 "Lifestyle" stores across the country to compete with Whole Foods and Wild Oats. The stores offer 600 organic items, a sushi bar and a hot roasted nut bar.

Giant-Eagle and Publix Super Markets have also announced the opening of organic, health-centered branches that will offer a wide variety of organic food options. Wal-Mart has even jumped on the bandwagon, announcing in May 2006 that it would expand its offering of organic products.

According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic industry has experienced 20 percent annual growth over the last 15 years. While Whole Foods co-president Walter Robb says the increase in organic offerings by other chains is a good sign, he says the Big Middle will have to innovate to meet consumer demand: "They're chasing our shadow. We won't be tomorrow what we are today."