A tough market: the reformers’ fight

A tough market: the reformers' fight

20 years ago, if you wanted to eat vegan, you had to go to a health food store. Neither were those who were dependent on gluten-free foods or simply wanted to live in a particularly health-conscious way. In the meantime, all this has become mainstream.

Healthy food and organic food are an unbroken trend. But of all people, the pioneers of yesteryear benefit little from it.

According to the reformhaus cooperative, the number of reformhausers in germany has more than halved over the past 20 years – from 2800 to around 1200 stores today. 900 of them are pure reformhausers, 300, for example, are pharmacies that, as licensees, are at the same time reformhausers and have a corresponding range of products. The industry’s turnover is around 670 million euros a year. "The reform house was forgotten a little bit at a time," says cooperative chairman rainer plum. "You lost sight of the customer."

The health food store chain vitalia had to file for bankruptcy about ten years ago. This wednesday, a man who was briefly part of the vitalia management team in the summer of 2009 will stand trial at munich regional court II. He is accused of bankruptcy fraud and deception. His lawyer would not comment on the proceedings in advance.

"The insolvency was ten years ago," says florian lindner, now vitalia’s authorized signatory in bruckmuhl, upper bavaria. "The new owner has invested a lot of money in the modernization of the stores. We’re still on the market today – with 86 stories nationwide."Since this year, sales have developed positively again, lindner emphasizes. In his opinion, one reason for this is the new look of the stores.

But the road there was rocky. "At the beginning of the industry boom, the reformhausers certainly missed the opportunity to take the younger generations with them," says lindner. "The new competition with the emerging organic grocery stores was not really taken seriously."Today, it is no longer the organic food store that is the main competitor for the reformers – but the classic food retail trade and especially the drugstores. "They are in the meantime strongly positioned in the area."

"The reformhausers have a lot of competition on many levels," also says fabian ganz from the market research company biovista, which specializes in the organic and reformed goods industry. In the food sector, these are organic markets and now also conventional retailers, and in the cosmetics and health sector, drugstores and pharmacies. And that, although reformhauser were often pioneers. "Many of the trends that have become mainstream today were set by the reformhaus."

"10 or 15 years ago, if you had to or wanted to eat gluten-free, there was no way around the health food store," says ganz. Likewise with vegan food. The health food stores were also the first to sell so-called superfoods or the hyped manuka honey from new zealand. "They manage to be ahead of their time," says ganz. "But there are now many other sales channels for all of this."

He sees a problem in the still somewhat dusty image of the reformhausers. "It’s certainly also about the more modern presentation," he says. "In general, the reformhaus is more of a traditional shopping place that has not managed to attract a younger clientele. There remains rather the image that one visits the reform house with an illness and must have first a certain suffering pressure, in order to go into a reform house."

The reformhausers want to change that. In order to stand up to the competition, several reformhaus operators in germany have now joined forces to form the reform alliance. Cooperative board member plum speaks of a "repositioning process.

Since then, the strengths of the reform house have been jointly promoted – according to lindner and plum, this is above all the advisory skills of the employees. "We are working hard on this," confirms market researcher ganz. "However, cooperation between competitors only ever comes about when the pressure of suffering is correspondingly great." Plum says: "the campaign "reformhaus – naturally better for me" serves to put us back on the customers’ radar."

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