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Jeff Pelline: Green grocery shopping has room to grow

I’m a grocery store groupie, so I was glad to get a chance to check out the new BriarPatch Co-Op in Grass Valley on Wednesday for take-out lunch.

It’s a beautiful market, both the architecture and “green” building on the outside, as well as the organic and natural food inside.

You can get organic produce, fresh seafood, even Painted Hills natural beef from Oregon, the same ground beef used to create double-digit priced hamburgers in upscale restaurants. The deli includes a soup and salad bar.



The store carries some interesting wines but still is waiting for regulatory approval to sell it. The parking was OK around mid-afternoon, but it remains a source of concern at rush hour because of the store’s proximity to a roundabout.

The clientele at the BriarPatch reminded me that organic shopping – once a niche business – has gone mainstream. Labels are simplistic, but I saw “yuppies” and “hippies” milling around. (Could it be that a new grocery store will help bring our polarized community together? Gadzooks.)




Anyway, BriarPatch is just one example of the boom in the organic and natural grocery business. Safeway’s new “lifestyle” store in Grass Valley sells some natural and organic food, along with the traditional staples. California Organics remains a regular stop with our family for fresh fish. I snapped up some organic parsley at SPD the other day (because they were out of the regular kind). To be honest, I shop at numerous grocery stores around here, including the “old” BriarPatch, because I like to cook.

The boom in organic and natural grocery shopping is occurring across the country.

So it came as a big surprise to me when I learned on the business news page that the Federal Trade Commission this week sought to block Whole Foods proposed buyout of Wild Oats. Whole Foods is offering $565 million to buy Wild Oats. According to the FTC, the merger will lead to higher prices where the two natural-food chains compete.

I’m no Adam Smith, but this is a great example of more “inside the beltway” thinking by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.

Nowadays Whole Foods and Wild Oats compete with the traditional chains – not just each other – because organic and natural foods are a major part of grocery shopping.

“The FTC’s actions were ‘somewhat at odds’ with the recent blurring of lines between stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and more conventional chains like Publix and Wegmans,” according to the Money Times account of a note to investors by Wall Street analyst Neil Currie of UBS. “He said that 74 percent of natural and organic foods were now sold through mass-market channels like conventional supermarkets.”

It’s true. In our rural community alone, you can buy organic and natural groceries at Briar Patch, California Organics, SPD, Raley’s, Albertsons and Safeway, as well as the Farmer’s Markets – not to mention people who sneak “down the hill” to shop at Trader Joe’s in Roseville. You fiends, you.

In either case, I think it’s time for the government to step aside and let shoppers decide from myriad organic and natural grocery shopping choices. In the meantime, I’m no stock broker, but you can snap up Whole Foods’ stock (WFMI) at its year’s-low price. Check it out. I think organic grocery shopping has a lot of room to grow.

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Jeff Pelline is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays. Contact him at 477-4235, jeffp@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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