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Natural Grocers opens in Gresham

Gresham has a new health food store. Natural Grocers is part of a Colorado-based chain founded in 1955. The spacious new Gresham store stocks a big variety of natural groceries, organic produce and grab-and-go items. With its demo kitchen, community room and free one-on-one nutrition coaching sessions, it’s setting itself up to be an asset to the neighborhood.

The store has humble beginnings. Margaret and Philip Isely, a Colorado couple, became fascinated by vitamins and supplements in the 1950s. They borrowed $200 to start The Vitamin Cottage, a door-to-door business selling supplements and health foods. Almost 60 years later, their business has evolved into Natural Grocers, with stores in more than a dozen states.

Currently the store has a big Paleo diet focus. But vegetarians shouldn’t let that scare them off. Even though Paleo people are pro-meat and anti-grain, they still have common ground with vegans and vegetarians. Fortunately Natural Grocers doesn’t take this stance so far that they don’t sell grain products.

Natural Grocers is set to expand around the Portland area. They opened a Clackamas store last week and have one in Beaverton, too. A Vancouver store is coming in June. They also have a new Corvallis store.

A few interesting features of Natural Grocers:

• Free cooking classes in their demo kitchen

• Free coffee and tea in the community room until 11 a.m.

• First chain grocery in the nation to go bagless. But don’t worry. If you forget a bag, they’ll let you use a recycled box. If you bring a bag, they’ll donate a nickel to your local food bank.

• They publish a long list of supplements and food ingredients they refuse to sell. This cuts time on label reading if you’re avoiding something on the list.

• They refrigerate their bulk foods, protecting their nuts and grains from rancidity. They recommend you refrigerate your nuts at home, too. However, they only do prepackaged bulk. This means they sell low-price generic items you’d usually find in bulk, but you can’t choose a certain amount. This is to avoid cross-contamination. If you want just a little of something, this isn't the place to get it.

• In an effort to pay a living wage, Natural Grocers pays entry level employees a dollar or so above minimum wage. Employees also receive 75 cents store credit for every hour worked in addition to discounts on all products.

• Every store has a credentialed nutritional health coach to advise customers.

• Their prices seem lower than some of the other health food store chains.

It looks like Natural Grocers will be an asset to vegans, vegetarians, Paleo people and anyone else in Gresham who likes whole foods and organic produce.

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