Miscellaneous Food Stores

SIC 5499

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of specialized foods not elsewhere classified, such as eggs, poultry, health foods, spices, herbs, coffee, and tea. The poultry stores may sell live poultry, slaughter and clean poultry for their own account, sell dressed fowls, or sell fowls cleaned and dressed by others.

Industry Snapshot

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 13,131 establishments operated in this industry in 2010, which together employed 75,824 people. Most operations were small, with 70 percent employing fewer than 20 workers. The top 15 companies generated over 20 percent of revenues. California was home to the most establishments, followed by Texas, Florida, and New York.

Dun & Bradstreet reported that health food stores led the industry in sales at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, with revenues of $2.5 billion. Other top categories were health and dietetic food stores ($2.3 billion), vitamin food stores ($2.1 billion), gourmet food stores ($707 million), and unprepared coffee ($630 million).

In the early 2010s, Los Angeles-based Herbalife International Inc., a developer of nutritional supplements, was a leader among health food and vitamin stores. Herbalife generated 1998 sales of more than $1.6 billion before floundering amidst plummeting stock prices and persistent allegations of running a pyramid scheme, including litigation by the California Attorney General,. A 1999 privatization bid left investors in the lurch, and Herbalife's growth slowed considerably. By 2005 Herbalife announced sales of $1.6 billion, an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2004. The company continued to increase revenue annually, posting sales of $1.8 billion, $2.1 billion, $2.4 billion, and $2.7 billion in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011, respectively. Herbalife sells its products in 70 countries primarily through an extensive network of nearly 2 million individual distributors.

Pittsburgh-based General Nutrition Inc. (GNC Holdings), the largest global specialty retailer of nutritional supplements, reported consolidated revenues of $1.8 billion in 2011. The organization went public in 2011 at which time it operated some 7,200 stores in the United States and Canada--nine times as many as its nearest competitor. GNC does business as company-owned stores, franchises, and a store-within-a-store in Rite Aid pharmacies. In addition, GNC has e-commerce operations at gnc.com. About 16 percent of GNC revenues is generated by franchise fees, retail sales account for 74 percent of revenues, and the remainder is earned through wholesale and manufacturing operations.

The two biggest natural foods market chains in early 2010s were Whole Foods Market Inc., of Austin, Texas, and Trader Joe's of Monrovia, California. Whole Food Markets reported earnings of $10.1 billion in 2011, up from $6.5 billion in 2007, and employed 64,200. The company operated approximately 310 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In August 2007, Whole Foods purchased rival Wild Oats Market. However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission challenged the acquisition based on antitrust issues, arguing that the acquisition would unduly limit competition within the health food market. In March 2009, Whole Foods settled the matter by agreeing to sell the Wild Oats brand, as well as 13 functions stores and 19 already-closed stores.

Privately owned Trader Joe's, with 365 stores in 2011, features a line of more than 2,000 private-label products that account for more than 70 percent of sales. Each Trader Joe's store is localized to reflect the community it serves. In March 2009, Trader Joe's celebrated the sale of over 400 million bottles of its signature wine, Charles Shaw, which sold for $1.99 to $2.99 a bottle, depending on location. Trader Joe's has been on the top 10 list of healthiest grocery stores by various publications, including Health magazine in 2008.

Despite a weak economy, the gourmet and specialty food sector continued to expand at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. The overall specialty foods industry was valued at more than $70.3 billion in 2010, according to Specialty Foods Magazine, with about $55 billion from retail sales. Natural food stores were the fastest-growing retail channel, with sales rising almost 15 percent between 2008 and 2010. "Functional beverages" was the fastest growing specialty food category, with a sales increase of 119.5 percent in 2010. Second was yogurt and kefir, whose sales increased 49 percent.

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