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Stores satisfy organic craving

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For years, southsiders who wanted to buy organic vegetables or health foods had to drive to the north side of Indianapolis to get it.

When an organic supermarket opened in Noblesville two years ago, customers repeatedly told store managers they came from the Greenwood area to get their fix of fresh produce, organic meats or healthy snacks, and they wanted a store near them, too.

In the past month, two stores have planted themselves in new locations on the southside, offering organic meats and produce, foods free of artificial chemicals and specialty foods, such as gluten-free items. This week, Earth Fare will open a market on County Line Road.

About a month ago, Fresh Thyme opened a store less than a half-mile away on U.S. 31.

The southside has a large and growing population but didn’t have any health food grocers, which made it a good location to target, according to Amanda Arnet, Earth Fare new store marketing manager. Since residents frequently asked for a store, it was a good sign that there was enough demand for a new location, she said.

Residents in Greenwood, the Center Grove area and the southside have pushed for a health food grocer, such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Those types of businesses, which are prevalent on the north side of Indianapolis, specialize in fresh produce, organic meats and natural foods. Residents want those types of stores nearby where they can get healthier foods or specialty items supermarkets don’t have room to stock, Center Grove area resident Joyce Long said.

Earth Fare, which has 33 stores in nine states, decided to look at Greenwood as a result of the comments store managers were hearing, Arnet said.

They heard from Greenwood residents so much that they passed the requests on to the corporate office, which did research to find out whether a store would be viable in the area.

“The people of Greenwood brought us to Greenwood. We wish we could have built it sooner. We’re still growing in a lot of areas,” Arnet said.

The demand for health foods in the county has been growing for years, Long said. She has been making trips to Trader Joe’s locations on the north side of Indianapolis for years when she needs items, such as specialty breads, cheese, olive oil or coconut oil, she said.

Long loyally buys some Trader Joe’s brands, so she still plans to shop there, but the nearby markets will save trips when she needs items such as fresh produce or cheese, she said.

“It’s better to have Earth Fare and Fresh Thyme market than not have any options, and I hear they’re going to be different. It will lessen our trips to Trader Joe’s because of gas prices,” Long said.

As more studies are released about the impacts of certain chemicals in food or artificial coloring or sweeteners, people seek out healthier alternatives, Long said. The large organic markets are able to offer those food options at prices that are competitive with typical supermarkets, she said.

Those shoppers are the ones being targeted by Earth Fare, Arnet said.

Shoppers don’t have to read the label when they pick up a product to look for ingredients they don’t want in their food, she said.

“You’ll never find high fructose corn syrups, dyes, colors, artificial sweeteners,” Arnet said. “Our customers ask us, and they’ve told us we’re ready for your store with a strict food policy.”

Even with another organic market less than a half-mile away, Arnet expects that the new store will flourish because so many shoppers won’t need to travel to the northside any more for their health foods.

Fresh Thyme opened in mid-June, and the store has remained consistently busy since, store director David Breland said.

Business has been surprisingly good, he said, and the most common complaint they’ve heard is that the store and checkout lines have been too busy when people come in.

“We’ve seen tremendous support from the community. We have been very well received, and the product we’re offering is something they’ve been looking for for a long time,” Breland said.

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