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Natural Food Pantry Ottawa

Natural Food Pantry Ottawa

Although it sounds a bit like a riddle, the newest “big thing” taking place at Natural Food Pantry is actually something on the smaller size.

Although it sounds a bit like a riddle, the newest “big thing” taking place at Natural Food Pantry is actually something on the smaller size.

The Ottawa-based natural food store – which over the past 34 years has always focused on building bigger and better stores – recently added a fourth location, and it is remarkably different than the others. On April 4, Natural Food Pantry opened a 1,200 sq. ft. location inside terra20, another Ottawa retailer, at its 14,000 sq. ft. flagship store in Ottawa’s Pinecrest Shopping Centre.   “It is a store-within-a-store concept,” explained Natural Food Pantry owner and president Rick Payant.  “It is truly two of Ottawa’s major healthy retail powerhouses coming together under one roof for an all-in-one wellness shopping experience.

terra20 encourages a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle by offering customers a wide selection of everyday consumer products from sustainable fashion and green household supplies to all-natural cosmetics, personal care and baby products. With more than 15,000 products representing 500 brands, terra20 has products to support a healthier lifestyle.

The Natural Food Pantry store-within-a-store will focus on supplements, vitamins/minerals, sports nutrition and natural foods.  This includes vegan, organic, gluten-free, healthy snacks, baking products, nutrition bars, superfoods, cereals, soups, teas, coffees, juices and more, led by registered holistic nutritionist Kristen Trudel and her team of health and wellness experts.

terra20 president Bill Stewart says, “The introduction of Natural Food Pantry will allow terra20 to serve its guests with a broader selection of natural foods, to complement the healthy products that they’re already buying for their homes and bodies.  Natural Food Pantry guests will also benefit from access to terra20’s expansive health and beauty offerings.”

“We are pleased to be partnering with terra20, which shares our values and goals of promoting and supporting healthy lifestyle choices,” says Rick. “Our combined expertise will make this an unparalleled shopping experience.”

The opportunity to create this new store-within-a-store was presented when terra20 approached Rick.  “We will continue to market our business independently with the exception of combined promos at that location,” he explained.  “Both brands have an exceptional following and this scale of guest loyalty will be expanded as the brands work together.”

The new store means new jobs: four full time people are required at the store, plus a team of support professionals.                        “We took people from existing stores and brought them into the new store.  And then we hired brand new people to fill the vacancies at the existing stores.   I felt that with a brand new store, it was important that the staff there fully understand the Natural Food Pantry brand’s vision and values.” Rick adds.

Opening a new store was something that got Rick re-engaged in retailing.  In recent years, he had spent a great amount of time on a project that was born in the back of one of his stores – a 500 sq. ft. bakery.  “We started with just baking fresh gluten-free breads and bagels for our own customers. We were discovered by a company called Enerjive, which was looking for a co-packer for its gluten-free crackers.  With the additional work for Enerjive, we quickly outgrew our location.  In the fall of 2013, we started construction on our new facility.  We did this also to be able to complete certifications.  These certifications now include gluten-free (gfcp) Kosher, GMP and HACCP.”

Today, I Crave Natural Foods, a gluten-free and peanut-free bakery, is housed in a 12,000 sq. ft. unit.  It rapidly outgrew its original home, and two subsequent locations, measuring 3,000 and 6,000 sq. ft. respectively. “The brand continues to grow and partner with exceptional partners across Canada,” said Rick.

All in the family

Like many retailers in Canada, Natural Food Pantry is a family business.  So, Rick didn’t have far to look when he was seeking a qualified individual to run the bakery: he had a good person in mind.  “My son Christopher began working in the retail side of the business before moving away for university.   After a year away, Chris came back, worked in the stores and started with the manufacturing, all while finishing a business program at Algonquin College. Chris now heads up most of the production of the many companies we produce for and also acts as the liaison between the bakery and our stores.”

Chris Payant represents the third generation in this storied Ottawa retail business. “Natural Food Pantry was founded by my Uncle Roger in 1981,” Rick says.  “I came into the picture in 1991, just by coincidence.  I am a licensed electrician and was doing work for Roger at the time.  He mentioned that he was thinking of franchising one of his locations.  I in turn discussed it with my wife and we both saw it as a good business opportunity.  It was very difficult in the beginning as neither one of us knew about health food retailing.  But thanks to great staff, things all worked out in the end.  We persevered and grew the business.”  

Two of the original Natural Food Pantry staff are still with the store today; Sharon Harris, manager of the Billings Bridge store and Rick’s mother-in-law, Denise Musca, who is now semi-retired but comes in at least one day a week and helps with merchandising.  “We have been very fortunate over the years to have had many great staff members, including several family members,” explained Rick.  “My focus the last few years has been on building the manufacturing side, but as that comes together and with Chris involved more and more, I will be able to refocus on the stores.  We may be opening new ones in the future.”

Adapting to change

Rick says there have been several important factors that have kept his store top-of-mind with guests. “I think we have been good at adapting with changes in the marketplace.  Adjusting our categories, product offerings and the way we do things are in line with the guest’s expectations. An exceptional guest experience, combined with health and wellness expertise in-store has always been the cornerstone of our vision and that will never change.”

He says having professionals on staff has been a difference-maker, too.  “We have several nutritionists on staff, including myself.   When the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition opened a school in 2000, I was registered in the first class.  It was a challenging year, as I attended full time and ran the stores.  But it was important to me and important that we have certified nutritionists on staff.” 

Sharing the Natural Food Pantry culture with the public has also been beneficial, explains Rick.  “We have always put lots of value in marketing and have tried virtually all mediums over the years.  We continue to put flyers in as many Ottawa homes as we can.  That has always done very well for us. We support it with email blasts, online newsletters, social media hype and our new website.  We continue to explore online opportunities, creative marketing ideas, while building great social media partnerships and content.  We have also been very active in the community supporting many important health related causes in Ottawa for decades.” Rick adds passionately.

Setting higher expectations

With the new store opened and operating, and the bakery running and in good hands, Rick has his sights set on further improving store operations.  “With increased competition and pressures on margins, we have taken a closer look at how we operate.  This has been a key focus for the last eight months.  This all started with the appointment of Carlo Bevilacqua, our director of operations to concentrate in these key areas and develop the teams.  This was a big step for us in moving to a new way of doing business.   Change is not always easy, but it is going very well.  We are setting higher expectations for our vendors and suppliers, streamlining operations, building strong standards and training initiatives, investing in the teams development, building innovative new technology, product and marketing initiatives and most importantly, creating a sustainable and scalable business model for future growth.”

In the meantime, great people, big changes and great improvements - both big and small - will continue to keep this Ottawa-based natural health and wellness retailer expanding and growing for many more years to come.  •


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