Podcast Episode Description
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Chris Sorensen from INFRA joins us to reveal the hidden depths of independent natural food retailers. Discover the real score on pricing and experience, which could very well outshine giants like Whole Foods. Chris’s unique journey from graphic design to the natural products industry maven is not just inspiring; it’s a testament to the passion that drives these retailers to excel in customer service and community building.
Feeling the pinch with rising prices? You’re not alone, and it turns out those quaint co-ops on your street might be the key to quality food without the hefty price tag. We dissect the myth of expensive independents and explore how savvy strategies like EDLP keep them competitive. These retailers aren’t just about ringing up sales; they’re deeply invested in their communities, pouring heart and soul into providing more than just groceries but a place where local values and health converge.
As we navigate the oft-confusing terrain of food labels together, you’ll come away enlightened and empowered to make informed choices. This episode is bursting with insights, from marketing finesse to the frontlines of food retail innovation, and will leave you eager to support the local champions of the natural food movement.
Chris Sorensen is the Promotions Program Manager at INFRA with over a decade of experience in natural foods retail operations, leadership, and store support with focus on promotional & merchandising strategy. He puts great importance on building authentic relationships and embodies leadership rooted in humility, diversity, and collaboration. He is recognized for having an effortless skill in creative problem solving and innovative thinking with an eye towards continuous improvement. Chris is driven to constantly learn, improve himself and to uplift others. In his free time, he enjoys spending quality time with his wife and 2 pit bulls. You’ll find them walking around the lakes and hiking the trails of Minnesota or cuddled on the couch with a good show or video game.
Full Show Transcript
Chris Sorensen: So by those quick shop people going in all the time and saying like, oh hey, they actually have a better price on broth than I can even get at Whole Foods, it starts to change that mentality. Of independence are expensive, co-ops are expensive to like. Oh, these guys are actually providing a full shopping experience for me and maybe I can try doing more of my shopping at this store.
Tina Smith: Welcome to the Natural Products Marketer podcast.
Amanda Ballard: I’m Tina and I’m Amanda, and we’re here to make marketing easier for natural products businesses so you can reach more people and change more lives. Today we have Chris Sorensen from Infra with us, really excited to kind of pick his brain as more as it relates to the grocery side of natural products. So welcome to the show, chris.
Chris Sorensen: Thanks, I appreciate you having me.
Amanda Ballard: So for those that don’t know what is Infra and what’s your role there, Infra is.
Chris Sorensen: It stands for Independent Natural Food Retailers Association, so it’s a mouthful, that’s why we go by Infra. It’s a purchasing cooperative that supports independent retailers in both lowering cost of goods, helping with operational best practices and things like that, and we work out promotional programs in a lot of different ways to benefit, basically allowing retailers to focus more on the work, helping customers on the sales floor. And we do a lot of that background work to help reduce labor in a lot of those functions. So my role as I’m the Promotions Program Manager, so I oversee our Infra deals program, which is our promotional program, infra Everyday, which is our EDLP program, and our NP, our new product offer program, which is executed by our category management team, which I formally was a category manager. That’s how I started at Infra and got this position in November of last year.
Amanda Ballard: So we always like to ask people, because we always find that it’s very interesting the paths that people take that lead them into the natural products world, because most people don’t think that that’s what they want to be when they grow up. So can you tell us a little bit about your journey into the natural products world and what makes you passionate about staying in it?
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, interestingly, I did not plan on being in this industry growing up. I went to school for multimedia graphic design and print production and I worked in that industry during college and right out of college I worked for Fast Signs and did sign installation graphics, things like that. At the time I was working there I was kind of going through some health stuff and found my local co-op. Started shopping at the Natural Foods Co-op, I got rid of everything in my cupboard, brought everything organic, natural. So I started living that lifestyle and the more I learned like the people on the sales floor were so fascinating on teaching me all of these things about natural foods, and so I learned more about just what foods would do for you health-wise. And then, as I learned about herbicides, pesticides, glyphosate, all of these things while working in a print industry that had a lot of toxic inks and toxic materials, I started to think to myself, okay, I’ve gone on this food health journey, but I’m in this industry, that is, I’m breathing these toxic chemicals, and I would go home at the end of the day still having that smell in my nostrils. So there became a point where I was like, okay, I don’t know if I’m in the right industry and my wife had actually started working at the co-op in the deli and she absolutely loved it and it was really good for us. And I was like, okay, I wonder if there’s a job that I could fit into at the co-op. And I checked the website, there was a job for grocery lead. So I had a job. So I actually, as I applied for it, I got the job. I took a pay cut. I left the industry of the career I’d been like working towards and was essentially a shift lead of stocking groceries and I figured I would do that for a while and then I’d figure out how could I get back in the print industry and after my non-compete that I had signed and I absolutely loved it, I started. I figured out merchandising was my first passion in grocery. I kind of looked at it as like I was going to go have good work-life balance, put boxes on a shelf and not worry about things. But I think because of my nature, I started like, oh, there’s a technique to this. And the more I learned, the more I started improving our merchandising strategies at our store and building big, beautiful displays and I was like, okay, this is fun and I can get paid. Well, I think, if I keep doing this. So I became grocery manager within a year. We opened a new store. A couple years after that I became grocery manager at that store and then I think, after building that new team out at the new store, I proved myself with merchandising and all of that that I then had an opportunity to become a visual merchandising coordinator for this three store now operation. And so I worked on a purchasing team in a support office and I absolutely loved it. I got to learn so much about category management. I got to do a lot of wellness remodels and wellness resets. I got to work with the meat department and do meat resets and learn about meat merchandising strategies, same with produce. So starting in grocery but then being able to really work throughout all the departments was fascinating and I absolutely loved it. And then to finally get to the point after 10 years of working at the co-op, I was like, okay, how do you grow from this? And so I was looking at how could I still support retailers but do it in a bigger way? And that’s really what led me to Infra, and now I’ve been here almost two years.
Amanda Ballard: That’s awesome. Now, I love that story yeah.
Tina Smith: Chris, I love that you went from design into merchandising and realize that merchandising is design.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, it totally is, and I started a planogramming process and that’s where I don’t know if you guys know, but planograms are expensive for anyone that has worked with a distributor or worked with another company to do planograms. I was hoping to implement like a planogram process at our store and it was too expensive. So I started using Adobe programs and I created my own planogram process and we had a planogramming the whole grocery department for all three of our stores over a year’s time. And so, yeah, I did turn merchandising then back into design and that reduced so much time for us to do resets. So, yeah, you’re totally spot on with that.
Amanda Ballard: Yeah, well, I love that you have just so much tenure in this industry. I think that that’s really valuable, and I think something that we’ve been wanting to have on this show is someone that knows more of the grocery side of things. So I’m really happy to have you here, just so you can speak more to that side of natural products, because you know, we talk a lot about supplement businesses and things like that, but there’s a lot of retailers out there that do both pretty heavily and others that rely a lot more on the grocery side of things for their business model. So I wanted to ask you you know, how can stores that lean more heavily on grocery differentiate themselves specifically independence from these big box retailers?
Chris Sorensen: It’s obvious to me because I came from the co-ops side. But local, you know really being nimble and in focusing on local, I think that’s one of the biggest things to help differentiate, because even you know the whole foods in the big box that have local. They have local that are already distributed nationally, right, so you know the whole foods. When I go here, I see a lot of the local products that we have in the co-op, but I know they’re ones that are distributed through the big distributors where the co-ops and the independence really thrive on having these personal connections with these smaller brands, bringing them in, being the first to market with these brands and building up these brands to then grow to multiple stores. So I think that’s a big differentiator and also, like when it comes to competition, just making sure that you can do some of the things that the big box retailers do but then be able to be nimble enough to do better at them. You know, even when it comes to like running an EDLP program or you know, merchandising your store, merchandising your set planning for holidays and like seasonally appropriate displays, that’s something where I feel like independence can get together with departments. It could be a grocery manager or, you know a grocery buyer, someone in wellness and someone in produce get together one day and say, hey, let’s do a really cool smoothie display and then you can do that later that day the bigger stores it’s much more bureaucratic to get to do something like that, and that’s what I really found joy in is just collaborating with the people within the store and finding fun, cool ideas that we could execute next day, next week, and I think that builds excitement for the customers coming in. We we built a display for Halloween called Frankenkind, and so we took all the kind bars out of the kind boxes and built a nine foot tall Frankenstein out of kind boxes and made a sign called Frankenkind and people loved it. You know. We also built a display of a big castle out of Annie’s soup cans and called it can a lot, and we had a moldy soup dragon and we had a draw crack or a drawbridge made out of crackers and that was us just like joking around in the back room having fun, and we like executed that for the display the following week. So that’s not something you can necessarily find in the big box retailers. It’s those fun, quirky, cool displays and cool ideas.
Tina Smith: What I love from that, chris, is that you’re talking about bringing your personality into the design of the store, which feels more real and authentic, versus you’re right and some of the bigger box stores. It’s got to look the same or it’s got to go through approval processes, so you’re bringing in personality out. And the second thing I heard from that is that you’re having a ton of fun doing it, so encouraging people who are in maybe smaller retailers with local brick and mortar stores hey, this can be really fun to be different and be exactly who you are.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s about a.
Amanda Ballard: Yeah, and I think another thing too that the employees are having fun. It’s a morale booster. So as a business owner, it’s like when you give your employees permission to just have fun, it’s going to make them better at their jobs and they’re going to want to come to work every day and work hard for your business. And you probably sold almost all of those kind bars when you built Frankenkind.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, and it was for a display contest so we won, interestingly enough. So we won a bunch of like winter jackets kind of winter jackets. We won hats, we won smocks, all kinds of stuff. Those winter jackets are still at that store and people use it for stocking out freezer stuff. So I thought that’s cool that that legacy still lives on Frankenkind.
Tina Smith: And it was.
Chris Sorensen: Instagrammed a lot. We had a lot of customers come in and posted on Instagram and at Lakewinds food co-op and so that was really cool.
Tina Smith: And the creativity does lead to that sort of organic reposting of exactly what you’re doing. So letting your personality shine through, having fun and doing something different can show up when you didn’t even mean for it to do that.
Chris Sorensen: Totally.
Amanda Ballard: What are some of the major trends that you’re seeing in natural grocery right now that we need to be paying attention to?
Chris Sorensen: Now that I’m not a category manager, I guess I’m not as focused in on the product specific trends. I’ve been focusing more on consumer insights and what are consumers looking for and how can independence attract more consumers into their store. And I think a lot of that has to do with we rolled out Infra Every Day, which is a new EDLP program that we partnered with our distributor, kehi, using the brand Kadia, which is a mostly organic but a natural brand. So we’ve rolled out this program and what I think is really cool about it is it allows us to compete with the big box stores. So the amount of members we have on the program is 200 members with like 314 locations throughout the country now have 107 items in their store that are competitive with Whole Foods 365, sprouts own label and even Albertsons and like their Safeway stores Some of the items were beating them out on price. Some of the items were pretty close or were at, and there’s a few that you know we’re close enough but we’re a little bit higher. But it allows the independence you know to really capture that full shop experience. Because what I know, even from my shopping experience and being in the co-op and even shopping some of the other smaller independence around the Minneapolis area is a lot of people go in for breakfast, they go in for their coffee, they go in for lunch and they don’t necessarily do their full shop, especially with some of the smaller stores. So by those quick shop people going in all the time and saying like, oh hey, they actually have a better price on broth than even at my conventional store, or they have a better price on beans organic beans then I can even get you know at Whole Foods. It starts to change that mentality of independence are expensive. Co-ops are expensive to like oh, these guys are actually providing a full shopping experience for me and maybe I can try doing, you know, more of my shopping at this store Because I think people just have that like oh well, I’ll go here because I just know the co-op or the independent, you know that category is going to be more expensive. And one of the consumer trends is you know, inflation is high. We’ve gone through a big inflationary period. Inflation is reducing month over month, which is good. So we’re starting to see growth in infrasores exceeding inflation, which is also good, but the consumer perception about inflation and grocery margins is way higher. Then it’s actuality. So if you think of a grocery department has an average margin of 36 or 38 or even 40, that’s how you price things at. There’s your pricing goals around that. So I would say if your goal is 36, you’re probably pricing things in between 32 and 40 margin if you’re using a variable margin strategy. But at the end of the day, after you pay the bills, you pay for labor, you pay for everything else. Most independence are probably making less than 2% in profit, probably closer to 1%. So the grocery game is not a place to go get rich. When consumers see that prices are increasing and they hear that a grocery margin is 40%, they’re like grocers and independents are gouging. Unfortunately, some of the big boxes are. They’re using this to their advantage and they’re getting to their shareholders, which rightly so. That’s how their business is set up. But we have these independent owners and what really attracted me to Infra is that these people have their whole life on the line. You know what I mean. If their store goes under, they lose everything. So these people are super passionate about providing this food to the people in their community and that helps drive me every day.
Tina Smith: That’s awesome, chris, and I just wanted to highlight consumer insights is what led you to this program, and you mentioned EDLP. Can you, just in case there’s uninitiated in the audience, what is EDLP?
Chris Sorensen: Thanks for the jargon check. Edlp is everyday low price.
Tina Smith: So you are doing some everyday low price and helping people with consumer insights around that so that they can put that in their marketing.
Chris Sorensen: I mean, that’s the other piece. Right, you can do a program, you can put the products in your store, you can have them available, but if you don’t shout the message and you don’t talk about it from a marketing perspective, you’re not driving in new traffic. So, yeah, that is something we’re working with our stores. So, again, we don’t go out and do marketing as Infra, but we’re supporting our stores. So we have a marketing toolkit that they can go into that has some like guided verbiage of you know, here’s what you could post on your newsletter, here’s what you could post in social media. We rolled out a new sign design, new signage package at Shelf, and then we’ve partnered with Katie, the brand that is the base for the program, on a lot of co-branded materials, and they’re also doing marketing that’s B2C as well, to get people just to understand that brand and what that means.
Tina Smith: Yeah, that’s awesome because we keep talking to people about their ways to get marketing materials that don’t cost money, so this is perfect to point them to these resources and to give them more ideas for ways to look for and ask for help.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, totally.
Amanda Ballard: So, chris, what do you think would be some effective strategies then for these independent grocers to challenge that myth that the independent, you know grocers and co-ops are expensive? What do you think are some things that we can do to show that we are not? That’s not. That’s not always the case.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, no, it’s tough. You know it’s probably been a battle that independence and co-ops have been having for decades. Right, even the you know the co-ops side of people even thinking you have to be a member to shop there, you know, and then in turn, independence also then get that vibe as well. But I think, with my background being in merchandising, having a merchandising strategy is also a good way. For once you actually get people in the store right. So there’s the marketing that you do on social, that you do in your newsletters that maybe you’re doing. One of our members does commercials locally just to talk about the everyday low price program. So you’re doing all this work to get people in the store and then they’re in the store and then people hide the EDLP right, they hide those low price programs. So having a good merchandising strategy that you know that you know if price perception is something that’s really important to your store and you want people to get that impression, you have to put those items at eye level right. So I always say that you know local is a good differentiator. The specialty and niche products that we sell, especially in grocery, is a huge differentiator. So you know eye level should be your everyday low price. You really want to shut that out. Your local and your niche specialty products should be right below and right above that so that people come in and they’re like, oh, wow, that’s a really good price. Oh, and they also have this really fancy balsamic vinegar. But I can get one for, you know, $8.99 if I want. But I can also buy the $22.99 one and you know you’re giving people that option. Then, having your national brands either on the top shelf and the very bottom and you know obviously the bigger and heavier stuff at the bottom but having a strategy and some guidelines that you can implement in every set. So a set would be you know to explain the jargon, the tomato set is where the tomatoes live, that’s the tomatoes home. But tomatoes will sometimes go out on an end cap for a promotional display, but they always live in that home location which is called a set. So having a merchandising strategy for your sets that you kind of implement across the whole store. But you can switch up and kind of be creative depending on the set. Like cereal, you might implement it a little bit differently because cereal might be, you know, 12 or 16 or 21 feet worth of cereal if you’re a big store or you might just have a four foot section where tomatoes. Even in a big store, you’re probably going to have a three foot or a four foot section. If you have eight feet of tomatoes, good for you. You’re probably selling a lot of tomatoes.
Amanda Ballard: I’m curious, chris you know with your grocery background, because we’ve talked with several, you know wellness experts about their merchandising and I’m curious to know if this philosophy applies to grocery as well. But it seems like the consensus in wellness has been fewer products, more facings.
Chris Sorensen: Yes.
Amanda Ballard: And would you agree with that, in grocery as well?
Chris Sorensen: So my philosophy with having a set is so there’s kind of a threshold, right, and it depends on the category. I think the thing that people can struggle with is they think variety captures more shoppers, but variety also overwhelms shoppers, right? So if you start with this philosophy of good, better, best, you know you want that’s both, you know through price and or quality. So think of it in that tomato set. You want a good tomato that’s a low price, that’s still a good quality, that’s organic. In the case that we’re working with our customers, that’s the Kadia brand, right? So it’s really good product, really good price. And then you want your better, which is probably like a mirror gland that’s owned by General Mail still really good price, still really good product. And then maybe your better is like a bio nature, that’s, you know, in glass, a little bit higher end, still organic, but it’s in better packaging, right. So that’s kind of a good framework to start. And then in between those you can have something a little bit better than good but not quite the better, and something a little bit better but not quite as best, and some of those categories you might have a lot more in between. But what I’ve found in, because I used to teach a merchandising class to all new people that came into the store that I worked at, and simplicity really does sell more product. So if you look at a display, if you were to try to achieve the look of a set on a promotional display, you’re not going to get that enticing people to put that thing in the cart as they’re walking by. But if you think of, like a K stack of popcorn or chips, that’s $1.99, and there’s three SKUs. A stock keeping unit is what SKU is. So if you have just three or four, someone’s like oh well, I like the sea salt or I like the no salt, or I like the sweet. They pick the one they like at that price, put it in their cart and they move on. The decision-making process is a lot less. When you have too many items in a set. Then it’s like okay, well, what really? These are all organic. So what differentiates them? Oh, is one regenerative organic? Okay, so that one’s the high end. That makes sense. Oh, this one’s actually not organic, it’s just non-GMO certified. Okay, so it could still have glyphosate. Okay, now I’m starting to see the quality difference. Now you have three decisions. It’s obvious to make the decision. When you have all three of those things that are all serving the same purpose or the same use occasion, or the same purchasing occasion, then you’re just making things difficult for your customer. So that’s us as buyers. While I’m working in the store to curate that set and I definitely agree it’s the less is more approach Helps with getting more sales.
Amanda Ballard: I’ve listened to a few episodes of your podcast, Chris. So shout out to the buyer’s desk.
Chris Sorensen: Thank you.
Amanda Ballard: But I know you guys have talked a lot about some of these things, like the regenerative, organic functional foods or super foods or regenerative farming Like, are those things that retailers need to be on the lookout for and be considering adding in items with those certifications into their stores.
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, I think it’s something to definitely be aware of. So, as you referenced that, our second episode was regenerative organic, the new gold standard. As a question mark, like is that going to be the new gold standard? Because we know organic has been the minimum now for decades and non-GMO certified came out as kind of like an add-on and I think people shouldn’t get mixed up that non-GMO is a replacement or even a baseline for organic, because it’s a different thing. It’s a reduction of something of your product. It’s just a reduction of one thing a GMO it doesn’t say anything about. Is there no glyphosate or no herbicides, anything like that? So when you’re looking at things like regenerative organic certified, that’s taking organic certification to the next level. So it’s not only just looking at the spirit of organic certification but it’s going kind of beyond that and I feel like it’s almost adding in these pillars that are kind of overarching and going even into like a fair trade, because it’s about animal welfare, farmer welfare, really focused on soil, and where organic focus is on soil. Right, you need to have good soil to be certified organic, you technically need to be in the ground and not in a pot but where people have kind of worked around. The organic certification is through hydroponics and other things like that. So there’s a new episode that we actually have it coming out next week which, as this airs, people can go back and listen to. That. We’re really focusing on biodiversity and soil health through that lens. And there’s a certifier that we have on called the Real Organic Project and these folks I actually know one of the farmers on there, I worked with them at the co-op and they’re a free add-on service. So if a farmer’s organic certified, these folks come out and do kind of like an extra layer of vetting your organic certification through the lens of a lot of the regenerative organic certified principles Making sure that the animals, if they say they’re cage free, they’re actually cage free, that the farmers are taking care of things they’re sold at a good price and really focusing on the spirit of organic, and so folks are actually doing what they say they’re doing. So I think, yes, retailers need to know this and they need to understand the differentiator of all of these things, because the Real Organic Project logo, as that comes out on more produce and even I know they have some plans to hopefully get into grocery and package stuff at some point. So you’re gonna see Real Organic next to organic, usda organic, then you’re gonna see regenerative organic next to that. So if retailers don’t know and don’t understand why all of these certifications are coming out and coming into play and the importance behind them, then they aren’t able to educate the consumer and ultimately that’s what needs to happen, right? I talked to Nicole Daz from Nixie when and she started late July Organic and we talked on the podcast and one thing when I asked her about this, she said yes, yeah, that is something people need to know about, but she struggled so much with just getting people to understand organic certified right and getting people to understand the price and the difference of that. So we still struggled to get people to understand the importance of organic certification. But then when you have a program that has lost some of its transparency and credibility, you need to then fill that void. And one thing Ariel Pressman from the Real Organic Project has said is he’s like I hope I go out of business someday I shouldn’t have to have this job, but because people need to understand that what the farmers are doing and what the farmers are saying is being vetted by a transparent source. That’s super important for everyone to understand, because we can’t all go to every farm we buy stuff from. We don’t have that time, so we have to rely on these third party certifiers to do that due diligence on our behalf, and when someone’s not doing it, another person will have to step in. And I feel like that’s what regenerative organic certified really had to do on kind of the brand side. So it’s brands came together with the Rodale Institute to build out this new certification that focuses on farming and they do certify farmers, but they are really focusing on those packaged goods. So you’re seeing those products come out into the market now. So if people don’t understand, how are you gonna sell and differentiate? Because I doubt that some of the big boxes, especially when it comes to real organic project, are gonna know how to educate their consumers on the difference so as independents. That’s why we’re doing this podcast and getting this out now, so that we’re just flowing that education again back to the consumer.
Tina Smith: So that sounds to me, Chris, like this is a great topic for independents to hop into right away.
Chris Sorensen: So from.
Tina Smith: India on their websites, and education starts now so that when consumers start to see a show up in the store, they can identify with it and people and their staff can point people back to resources immediately. Like here’s the difference, here’s where you find information. We’re the providers of that. That’s different than anything you’ll see anywhere else.
Chris Sorensen: Totally yeah. And having any resources or pamphlets or directing people to like the Rodale Institute or directing them to the Regenerative Organic Alliance just knowing some of the places to send your consumers. One thing, when I worked in the store too, when I learned about Cornucopia Institute, I was like, oh, we got scorecards on all of these farmers that we carry. I printed those out and laminated them and put them up by the eggs, put them up by the milk. So, yeah, that’s. One thing is using those resources, however you can, to educate your consumer, because we are the trusted source in the community.
Amanda Ballard: I think that goes back to how do independence differentiate themselves from the big boxes? It’s like you’re never going to have a customer or service associate in the produce aisles of Whole Foods that can answer those questions for you. When you see these certifications that you’ve never heard of, you’re just walking around and there’s no one to help answer those questions. I think that that’s where the independence can really really shine and be that health authority in their community.
Chris Sorensen: Totally. That’s what I say with the independence and all of the members that I’ve met from Infra. They’re like food justice warriors first. That’s what these people’s passion are. They’re in this industry because they care about this. It’s not just a job. A lot of these folks, on their own volition, do a lot of this research and they go to these sources and go to the events that Infra has to learn about these things. Because when they care and then just by Osmosis, those consumers then get to know that Then any of those folks that I have run into at Whole Foods that I’ve had really good conversations with, I see them at an independent or a co-op after some time, because that’s really where you get that opportunity to be creative, to grow and to really educate your community.
Amanda Ballard: Chris, just to close us out a little bit, what are some of the benefits I know we’ve touched on this a little bit, but benefits of becoming an Infra member and how would someone go about doing that?
Chris Sorensen: Yeah, maybe not the best person to speak on all the benefits, because I’ve been at Infra a short period of time, but I’ve seen some of the benefits I know. If people are interested in becoming a member, go to naturalfoodretailerscom, check out some of the sources that we have on there. Anyone who is interested, they can email me at csorenson at infreetailerscom and that’s sorenson S-O-R-E-N-S-E-N. I can connect them with the people if they want to have a conversation. But I’d say the biggest benefit that I hear from members is the community. We have a members-only area. That’s a website where we have discussion forums and everything where people can ask questions. Infra also does a really good job with in-person networking events and training events. We get a lot of people together from different stores at a store, a storeable host, and we do different training sessions through different lenses. We have Infra Exchange, which is a lot of our events and education. We do a marketing share series on a regular basis. We get all the marketing departments together and talk about what are folks doing, what are they using, how are you keeping your projects together? Are you using a project management software, things like that, doing a lot of that? Yeah, I think it’s just that getting people together, seeing who has the best of the best practices and learning from each other, and Infra just facilitates a lot of those really good conversations. Then a lot of us at Infra are all previous retailers. That’s what I think the cool thing with Infra is is they’ve plucked really good retailers, folks that have worked for retailers that have a lot of different, really focused experience, and then have those people training other retailers whether it’s our member business advisors that are out working with the team and we just rolled out a new team. We hired a bunch of people for promotions and merchandising advisory team. These folks are actually going out into stores and helping members figure out how can you merchandise better, how can you sign better, how can you market better, how can you talk about your message. We go out into the competition in that area and see what the competition is doing and come back to the member, see what the member is doing and provide some perspective on here are some opportunities and help people just retail better.
Amanda Ballard: That sounds like a great resource.
Chris Sorensen: We have a lot of partnerships and discounts with some of our business partners too. I don’t want to get into all the details of them, but our members only area has a huge list. We’re constantly meeting. I’m actually on Monday morning meeting with another company that’s a potential business partner that we could hopefully provide some more options to our members and provide a discount on some of their services.
Amanda Ballard: Chris, to end every podcast, we’d like to go through some rapid fire questions.
Chris Sorensen: Oh God.
Amanda Ballard: So you have been warned. So first things first. What do you read, listen, who do you follow to kind of stay up to date with what’s happening in the industry and what might be coming next?
Chris Sorensen: There’s kind of two different perspectives. So I listen to Adam Grant, bernay Brown and Simon Sinek both their podcasts and I read their books, because they’re fascinating when it comes to organizational psychology, leadership, things like that, which is a whole big part of retail. So if you want to be inspired to be a better leader, a better coworker, even a better employee, those three folks are phenomenal. But when it comes to industry product stuff, they’re new hope networks a big one. They provide a lot of really good insights and a lot of things. They have Expo East, expo West. Those are both product shows like tabletop shows, so they provide a lot of really good resources. They have a good podcast too. That’s phenomenal to listen to. Don Humby is a lot of consumer research within the grocery world. Hartman Group also has a lot of consumer insights and things to keep up on trends. Those are probably the big ones that we are always looking at, but once pop up from time to time I have to mention Spins to our data partner. We have two guys on site, jim and Jordan, that help facilitate a lot of data work with us on the natural products industry. So if a retailer is not using Spins, you’re not taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Spins is a platform where you can easily see what are people in your area selling and what are you not selling and what’s selling really well and what are opportunities for you to bring a product in and just make more dollars by selling more product that consumers in that area want. So I think that’s a huge one. They have a few different platforms that really help retailers as well.
Amanda Ballard: What do you think most people in the natural products industry wish they could change about marketing?
Chris Sorensen: Make it easier. I don’t know when AI I mean AI for Adobe just came out right. So I think having more people being able to clone themselves, I think is one big thing right.
Amanda Ballard: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for this industry coming up in the next three to five years?
Chris Sorensen: Staying relevant and continuing to differentiate as we figure out what our secret sauce is and keep doing that. Big boxes retailers are going to find ways to do it, so continually differentiating ourselves in different ways.
Amanda Ballard: What do you think are some low hanging fruits that retailers have just in front of them that could give them some quick wins for their businesses?
Chris Sorensen: I think merchandising really well, taking a step back and just really looking at your store through fresh eyes, through customers’ eyes, and understanding how your store flow, is how you can merchandise it. And then signing things and just putting signs up in your store, shouting your message, letting people know you know your message, but your customer doesn’t know your message. So getting what’s in your brain in front of people’s faces as much as possible, without making it even more confusing, is something that people can do. You can do that today. Later today, print off a sign and go put it down on the sales floor. You can do that today.
Amanda Ballard: If there’s people that want to get in touch with you. I know you gave your email address. We can put that in the show notes. You have your podcast. How can people find that?
Chris Sorensen: Search for the buyer’s desk on wherever you listen to podcasts on any of the platforms. You can also find it at naturalfoodretailerscom under the who we Are tab, and you can find the buyer’s desk there and listen to it through Infer’s website. Or you can find me on LinkedIn Chris J Sorenson IV, chris J-A-Y-J and then Ivy for the fourth, because there’s so many Chris Sorenson’s, it’s crazy. Search for Chris Sorenson. You’ll find hundreds of us.
Amanda Ballard: Any recommendations for people that we should interview for the show or topics that we should cover?
Chris Sorensen: I think, especially when it comes to supplements and things that I’m learning more about is just all the different testing that needs to be done for the different types of supplements Like that to me, is fascinating the more I’ve learned about that and what companies are actually using third parties to test versus doing self-testing, and where things actually make a difference, because there are some brands that have really reputable testing and some brands that claim they do testing. So really trying to demystify who to believe when it comes to what they’re saying about testing. I think it would be a fascinating episode and she’s going to hate me for saying this, but I think you need to talk to Lauren Bartell at Infra, because she’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wellness and supplements. So sorry, lauren, but I think you’d be great on this podcast.
Tina Smith: Thank you so much for spending this time with us today. This has been a wealth of information and I know everyone who’s listening has gotten a lot out of it, so really appreciate your time and your brain.
Chris Sorensen: Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate it.
Amanda Ballard: Awesome. All right, thanks, chris. Thanks so much for listening to the Nat for Products Marketer podcast. We hope you found this episode to be super helpful. Make sure you check out the show notes for any of those valuable resources that we mentioned on today’s episode.
Tina Smith: And, before you go, we would love for you to give us a review. Follow, like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, spotify, youtube or wherever you’re listening today, and make sure you join us for our next episode, where we give you more marketing tips so that you can reach more people and change more lives.