The natural food wars are underway in Billings, and they’re playing out on the front doorstep of Lucky’s Market.
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has put a billboard across the street from Lucky’s on Grand Avenue questioning the new grocer’s organic street cred. It reads: “We sell only USDA certified organic fresh produce. Do they?”
“There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace regarding organic products, natural products and what the difference is… We are focused on providing sound, documented product information so our shoppers can make their own educated choices,” Natural Grocers spokeswoman Nancy Flynn said in a written statement.
Lucky’s opened as an anchor tenant at West Park Promenade in March, the fifth store for the Boulder, Colo., grocer. Lucky’s is a full-service grocery store that sells natural and organic foods, along with natural-fed beef and its signature in-house smoked bacon.
About 40 percent of Lucky’s produce is organic, and nonorganic foods are clearly marked, store officials said.
Nevertheless, that’s a touchy subject for Colorado-based Natural Foods. Flynn wrote that “You can buy produce labeled ‘organic’ from any run-of-the-mill market, but you can't be sure it has not been contaminated, commingled, or mixed up with other things you really don't want to eat.”
Natural Grocers has also circulated ads in The Billings Gazette telling consumers to ask other retailers why they don’t sell 100 percent organic produce.
The popularity of the Lucky’s store has made other natural food sellers nervous because of the crowded market for a city of 109,000, and a retail area that pulls folks from hundreds of miles in all directions. Five other stores were already selling primarily natural foods before Lucky’s moved in: Natural Grocers, Bonanza Health Foods, Montana Harvest Natural Food Store, Good Earth Market and Mary’s Health Foods.
Officials at Lucky’s said the Billings store has been the company’s top seller since it opened, and they welcome the competition. They said they aren’t trying to put anyone out of business.
“It’s kind of fun to have a little bit of a healthy rivalry, as long as it’s friendly,” Lucky’s marketing coordinator Anne Costilla said.