Building a Community for the Healthy-Minded

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Natural Food Pantry logoWestboro’s Natural Food Pantry offers a unique shopping experience

When shopping for easy-to-find products like vitamins, personal care and cosmetics, there’s one thing we can be certain about: healthy living has fully entered the mainstream.

While you might be able to find all the products mentioned in the big chains, you cannot underestimate the value of the expertise that Westboro’s Natural Food Pantry offers to its many appreciative customers.

According to owner Rick Payant, the health and wellness destination on Richmond Road differentiates itself precisely because of a personal approach and the added value of firsthand experience with products.

“Something we work hard at, and are very proud of, is knowledge and education,” explains Payant, a registered nutritionist himself. “More and more these days, there aren’t a lot of products that you couldn’t find at a mainstream store, but it’s the service, knowledge, and getting the connection with the customer – if you’re helping someone with a health issue, or how to prepare a certain dish; how to follow a vegan lifestyle, a keto lifestyle, we’re pretty up to date on all of that.”

Building a Community Spirit

Customers can expect to spend plenty of time browsing through a wide range of products at Natural Food Pantry – it serves as a one-stop shop for everything from fresh organic produce and specialty groceries to supplements, vitamins, personal care and cosmetics, and even bulk. However, Payant some time ago began to notice that the interactions between his customers and his staff were growing into something more than your typical retail relationships: it was as if a community of likeminded people was forming.

“Customers will come in and share their experiences,” says Payant, “how certain things helped them and how others may not have. I even have staff that have been with me for a long time – customers will come in to chat with them. It’s wonderful that we’ve created relationships with these customers, that they feel comfortable sharing.”

Taking Education to the Next Level

In recent years, this sharing took on a more formalized approach – what Payant describes as “taking education to another level” by bringing in certified nutritional practitioner Natasha Villeneuve to head up educational initiatives. Prior to COVID-19, this involved hosting regular in-store seminars and workshops, often featuring guest specialists from Westboro including naturopaths and chiropractors.

Since the pandemic, Payant and his team have moved much of their education online with more webinars, informative videos and live social media events (“We’re anxious to go back to having events in-store,” says Payant, “but we can also reach more people outside of Ottawa now”.

“We Sell Cookies Too!”

All of this may seem ideal, the perfect retail experience to a customer already familiar with wellness products, but Payant has never wanted to alienate anyone who might feel intimidated by the Natural Food Pantry. In order to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, they’ve even relied on a little bit of humour to get the message across.

“We ran a program called ‘We Sell Cookies Too,’” says Payant. “We’re trying to say ‘don’t be afraid’ because we wanted to address the intimidation factor – we’re not judging anyone when they come in the door.

“One of the pluses of having health food go mainstream is that it’s gotten people more familiar with the health food industry and more comfortable with products. When they want to take it to the next level, or when they have questions that’s when they come to us.”

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