Company Snapshot: Native Sun Natural Foods Market
11030 Baymeadows Road
Jacksonville, Florida 32256
Total Current Stores
3 (one opening soon)
Aaron Gottlieb: Owner
Michael Drinkwater: Chief of Operations
Top 12 Right to Know Grocers (Organic Consumer’s Association’s “Diligent Dozen,” 2013)
Companies That Care (Jacksonville Magazine, 2009 – 2011)
Socially Responsible Retailer Award (Natural Products Association, 2010)
Snail of Approval Award (Slow Food First Coast, 2010)
Best Health Food Store (Void Magazine, 2014 Folio Weekly, 2003 – 2013 Jax4Kids.com, 2009)
Best Organic Cuisine (Folio Weekly, 2009-2011)
Best Vegetarian Cuisine (Folio Weekly, 2010 Jacksonville Magazine, 2009)
Best Organic Goods (Jacksonville Magazine, 2010)
Natural Food Retailer of the Year (WholeFoods Magazine, 2008)
Top 50 Retailer Award (Better Nutrition Magazine, 2008)
100 Top Shops (Jacksonville Magazine, 2004)
Editor’s Choice Award (Water’s Edge Magazine)
Top 100 Health Food Stores (Health Food Business)
Aaron Gottlieb may be the founder of Native Sun, but his diet hasn’t always been what would be considered healthy. By the time he was 18 he had tried many of the fad diets, but his weight had gotten to 220 pounds. That’s when he realized he needed a change. He started by adopting a vegetarian diet, then stopped eating all dairy, and lost more than 60 pounds. At this point he took a job at a natural food store and this is where his interest for organic foods and living a healthy lifestyle began to flourish. He moved back to Jacksonville after college, and in 1996 he opened the first Native Sun store with his wife Erica. They sought to open a store that had organic GMO free foods and wanted to be considered health educators instead of just owners. They opened a second store in 2006 and will soon be opening a third.
What makes Native Sun different to a Whole Foods or Trader Joes is the hometown feel and dedication that goes behind every product. Before products are put in stores its origin and ingredients are verified, they tour the manufacturing facilities, visit trade shows, and attend seminars; all to ensure that what is being bought is the best possible quality. None of the products in the store will have: antibiotics, artificial colors or flavors, artificial sweeteners, BHT/BHA/TBHQ, cloned meat or dairy, expandex, GMOs, growth hormones, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, nitrates, pesticides, synthetics, or melamine. The owners have made the entire process completely transparent on where the food comes from and what ingredients each product contains. The store has a unique tagging system where foods with low sodium have a green tag, foods that are gluten free have a red tag, foods with no casein have a yellow tag, and foods with no peanuts have an orange tag.
Because the employees are considered health educators, customers can request a free tour where someone will point out what different labels mean, which foods are best for what diets, and they will answer any other questions. One customer’s testimonial stated, “A staff member literally walked me around and discussed properties and preparation of the individual foods, while really listening to what I was saying. Lead him to make a recommendation for a product I had been meaning to try. So refreshing! Thank you Native Sun, not sure what I would do without you!” If customers are just looking for information, the Native Sun website has recipes, product and ingredient information, and recommendations on local farms, restaurants, services, fitness clubs, and charities.
Usually when a company is chosen each month for the snapshot it is one that has been open for many years, has an impressive growth or sales rate, or is one of the top supermarkets in the country. For the next few months I will be highlighting small, one to two unit health grocery stores. These stores don’t have impressive growth or over the top sales history, but what they do have are owners that are passionate about health and wellness and have created a store around that passion.