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Natural Grocers expands into Portland area with store in Beaverton

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Daniel Ricchi unpacks boxes of gluten-free breads in the new location of Natural Grocers in Beaverton. The store will have its grand opening on Aug. 6.Are you the kind of grocery shopper who isn't sure whether it's worth spending a little extra for organically grown produce or meat when you know the slightly cheaper, but less-good-for-you kind is just a few feet away?

At Natural Grocers, you won't need to worry. All produce as well as meat is organically and naturally produced. And according to store officials, competitively priced to prevent any pocketbook pain from going natural.

"You will find no conventional produce in our stores," says Andi Valdez, operations team lead for the Denver-based grocery chain. "It's all U.S.D.A 100 percent certified organic."

Paper vs. plastic? Forget about it. Shoppers may bring their own bags from home, purchase durable cloth bags for 99 cents each or use the boxes set out for recycling by the checkout area.

Beaverton shoppers will be able to explore the area's latest alternatively minded grocery concept on Tuesday at 8:56 a.m., when Natural Grocers opens its doors in the newly renovated former Bed, Bath and Beyond store at 12155 S.W. Broadway St.

With locations in Medford and Salem, the store is Natural Grocers' third in Oregon, with an outlet in Bend soon to follow. Founded in Colorado by Margaret and Philip Isely in 1955, the family-run store has grown to include 70 locations in its home state as well as 12 western and midwestern states.

"We have always seen Oregon as a natural fit for us, with its focus on active and healthy lifestyles and its keen awareness of issues around sustainable agriculture and healthy food," said Kemper Isely, Natural Grocers' co-president. "We're looking forward to putting down deep roots in Beaverton and Bend."by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Natural Grocers store manager Krysti Weddle shows off the store's special heater that captures gases from the refigeration unit and turns them into heat for its water.

Unlike the sprawling, multi-departmental environment of nearby markets, Natural Grocers keeps things basic with no deli, bakery, brand-name coffee shop or pharmacy. The 2,300-square-foot store does offer an extensive wellness and vitamins section, a full-time, credentialed nutritional health coach on staff, a book and accessory section. Unique amenities such as a demonstration kitchen provide cooking classes and seminars, and a community room offers free brewed coffee, tea and Internet wi-fi service.

The absence of high-fructose corn syrup, the controversial sugar substitute, along with any foods that contain artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, or produce grown with synthetic pesticides, speaks to the store's commitment to health and wellness.

"You'll never find high-fructose corn syrup in our stores," said store manager Krysti Weddle, who relocated from Wichita, Kan., to helm the Beaverton store. "We keep the products we carry as clean as possible. We typically don't sell mainstream brands. Not because it's a mainstream brand, but because of their ingredients."

Along similar lines, the store's "bagless" policy is an effort to encourage sustainability. Customers who purchase a reusable cloth bag will have 5 cents donated to a local food bank.

The building, whose renovations began late last year, is rife with sustainable features, such as 100 percent LED lighting and a system that recycles heat from the refrigeration system to provide the store's hot water, eliminating the need to heat it with natural gas, explained Kevin Stees, Natural Grocers' construction manager.

"We were changing fluorescent bulbs every two to three years and the ballasts every three to four years," he said of earlier stores. "These lights will last approximately 10 years."

Valdez said the company's health and sustainable philosophies should mesh well with the expectations of informed, wellness-oriented consumers in Beaverton.

"Things you'll find in a conventional store, you can find a counterpart for in our store," she said, noting one third of its space is devoted to supplements to support wellness-based diets. "We're looking at a community that believes in health, wellness and the same beliefs the company has."by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Natural Grocers took over the former Bed, Bath and Beyond in downtown Beaverton.

The store's free health coaching services include individualized nutrition sessions and meal planning. The store supports a full-time nutritional health coach, while the entire staff is trained to help shoppers find products and resources to support optimal health. The demonstration kitchen will offer free seminars, guest speakers and cooking demos for the community.

"We're excited about this," Weddle said. "We really want this to be a destination for the community to gather and share knowledge about healthy living, cooking and nutrition. Customer education is huge."

The store's unconventional ways extend to its hours, with opening and closing times like 8:56 a.m. and 8:04 p.m. pay no mind to rounded hourly numbers. While those times are ostensibly to give customers a slight edge at opening and closing times, the stores are actually open for fewer hours than that of some of its competition.

The answer? The wellness of employees.

"The company believes in employees having a work and life balance," Weddle said. "This gives them time to live their lives."