Billings Bridge’s Natural Food Pantry Gets Some Competition

Billings Bridge Shopping Centre has added two new stores that will give shoppers more choice when it comes to bulk foods and nutritional supplements – two areas that have long been dominated at the mall by health food store the
Natural Food Pantry.

In December of 2010, the Bulk Barn opened in the Western-most tip of the building, and in March of this year, nutritional supplement store Nutrition House set up shop several stores East of the escalators on the first floor.

 The Natural Food Pantry, which has been at the mall for over 30 years, has been the go-to place for both bulk food and nutritional supplements.  But manager
Sharon Harris said she isn’t concerned about the arrival of competitors because each of the three stores has a different niche market.  Harris said the Natural Food Pantry offers customers a wide variety of health foods, while the Bulk Barn emphasizes bulk discounts, and Nutrition House focuses on supplements.

Natural Food Pantry manager Sharon Harris and cashier Marilyn El-Khoury

The Pantry is the only place you can find health-conscious alternative cleaning supplies, sunscreen, hygiene products and food all the in the same place, alongside the services of certified nutritionists.  “The only thing we don’t have is pet food,” Harris quipped.

Harris implied Bulk Barn caters to a more mainstream customer base less interested in the latest health trends.  “If you want to buy candy, you’d probably go to Bulk Barn,” she said.

Harris has no qualms with the mall allowing the competitors to set up shop.  “They can do what they want, really,” she said.  And she said that her store has not felt any drop in business since they arrived, though the Pantry did match some prices advertised at Nutrition House at the start.

Nutrition House, Bulk Barn and the Billings Bridge management all agree with Harris that there is room at the mall for all three.

Over at the Bulk Barn, next to bins filled waist-high with everything from almonds to  lentils, manager Jonah Lombardo made pretty much the same argument as Harris: Natural Food Pantry specializes in health food, while Bulk Barn is more generalized.  “We sell some of the same things as Natural Food Pantry but not a lot of the same things,” he said.

But most of the Pantry’s bulk foods are generic products like oatmeal, spices and coffee beans, that aren’t necessarily health food.

Meanwhile, at Nutrition House, where there are rows and rows of plastic bottles filled with vitamins, protein powders, and fish and plant oils, the manager also
echoed Harris’ comments.  Ameer Razavi said Natural Food Pantry offers a wide variety of health-related products, while his store specializes in nutritional supplements.  “They’re  more grocery-based upstairs,” Razavi said.

It was the shopping centre management that invited Nutrition House to create a store at Billings Bridge.  And the management is enthusiastic that it, Bulk Barn, and the Natural Food Pantry can all co-exist.  Dora Cook, the mall’s property
manager, said that a lot of thought goes into choosing which stores to approve.  “While one may speculate that two bulk food retailers may compete against each other, in this case, they really don’t,” she wrote in an email.

Cook cited examples of different stores providing the same products and thriving at Billings Bridge both in the past and the present.  In the late seventies, the shopping centre supported both Loblaws and Steinberg grocery stores.  And today, the mall has six cell phone retailers, which all, according to Cook, do “very well.”  So well
in fact that soon the mall will be adding two more!

On a weekday afternoon, the new Bulk Barn and Nutrition House stores were still relatively quiet, while Natural Food Pantry was bustling with customers.  But Bulk Barn manager Lombardo said things are picking up.  “We get busier and busier every week.  People are starting to realize that we’re here,” he said.

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