NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis is fast becoming a healthy market for, well, healthy supermarkets.
The area's latest addition comes with the opening of Earth Fare in Noblesville, anchoring Hamilton Town Center with a 26,000-square-foot store featuring natural and organic foods.
It's the state's first location for the North Carolina-based chain whose stores include more than 1,000 private label offerings.
But it won't be the only one for long.
Set to open this summer is a Carmel store, and Earth Fare is scouting locations in Greenwood and Downtown, too.
"We are very bullish on Indiana," CEO Jack Murphy told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/YJCyGK ). "We're very aggressively looking at sites in the area."
Murphy said Indianapolis has been extremely receptive to the healthy food philosophy, which his stores follow. That philosophy eschews any items containing high fructose corn syrup, bleached or bromated flour or artificial fragrances. It also bans antibiotics and synthetic hormones in fresh meat or dairy, among several other banned ingredients.
But just because these ingredients are missing doesn't mean the taste is, said Kristi Kanzig, assistant marketing director for Earth Fare, which now has 29 stores in the Southeast and Midwest.
"We have so much great food," she said.
There are the eggplant veggie fries and the smoked Gouda-and-asparagus chicken rollers. There is vanilla almond coconut milk and bison rib eye in the meat case.
There is also, however, plenty of competition for Earth Fare.
Among the big specialty names in the area are Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market, with two locations each. Whole Foods spokeswoman Kate Klotz said it also is looking for additional locations.
Then there are the traditional grocers such as Kroger, which has been aggressively expanding its natural foods offerings. Many Kroger stores have Nature's Markets, a store within the store devoted solely to natural foods.
Despite the growing options in Indiana, the state still ranks poorly when it comes to some health measures.
A national report released this year found that Indiana ranked eighth nationally in obesity, with 30.8 percent of Hoosiers obese. The state also ranks poorly in diabetes.
So the increasing focus on natural foods makes sense.
Nationally, natural and organic food sales grew 8 percent in 2010 versus the less than 1 percent growth in the $630 billion total U.S. food market, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. It grew at about a 5 percent rate each year from 2005 to 2009.
At Kroger, sales of the category have doubled in the past four years alone. Many of those come under its own Simple Truth brand.
"(We have) been an industry leader in selling natural foods and organic products, as well as supporting local growers, for 129 years," said Kroger spokesman John Elliott, when asked about the new competition in town.
Earth Fare's competitors welcomed the newcomer.
"We believe that competition is a healthy component of retail," said Klotz of Whole Foods. "It keeps us invigorated and helps encourage even more people to learn about the natural and organic experience we provide."
Trader Joe's had a similar take.
"We don't worry too much about competition; there are a lot of people out there trying to sell food," said spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki. "We compete against ourselves, and our focus is constantly trying to get better at what we do."
Cheryl Smitson was shopping Tuesday at Hamilton Town Center. She tried to get inside Earth Fare and was disappointed it had not opened.
"I am so excited," she said. "I shop almost always at natural foods places. We can always use another choice."
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com