Rhubarb’s Market Stays True to its Principles
Jun 30, 2014 12:33AM
● By Nancy Somera
After living in Colorado for a summer in the mid-80s and seeing the direction that the organic food industry was headed, Greg and Sheila Henkel returned to their home state to open Rhubarb’s Market, a mid-sized, independent natural and organic food market on the north side of Lancaster. For nearly 20 years, Rhubarb’s was the sole source providing the community with minimally processed, naturally sourced food that is free of dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and other artificial additives. Even though industry growth has created competition, Greg says their philosophy has not changed: to offer natural, organic food to the community and educate its customers about the reasons to eat well.
As big players such as Whole Foods Market have entered the game and cleaner eating has become more mainstream, prompting even supermarkets to carry some of the more popular natural and organic product lines, Rhubarb’s has become more selective about the products they carry. The Henkels seek out hard-to-find companies, and while continuing to stock highly sought-after products, he has shifted to securing specialty items from smaller and whenever possible, local vendors that cater to foodies that follow a specific diet, such as raw food, paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.
“Whole Foods and other larger chains have been good and bad for the industry,” notes Greg. “They have brought much more awareness to natural and organic foods. On the other hand, there has been too much consolidation, especially on the manufacturing side.” According to Greg, megacorporations like General Mills and Kellogg’s are buying smaller businesses, but are not in the business for the same reasons; often they are primarily interested in the balance sheet rather than the values and ideals held within the core natural foods industry.
Despite the growth and transition in the industry, Rhubarb’s, with its pleasant, welcoming environment and well-trained staff, continues to thrive. Each of the established group of enthusiastic employees was a customer first. Greg shares that he recently overheard a conversation in which a staff member was explaining to a customer how to cook barley. “Each of our staff members lives the lifestyle that our products support, so chances are they will not only be able to answer customers’ questions about a particular food item, but also tell them how to prepare it, the benefits of eating it and what it tastes like.”
Greg is a hands-on owner and can be found most days on the floor assisting in day-to-day operations, including bagging groceries and changing light bulbs, if necessary. Open six days a week (closed on Sundays), the cooperative work environment and camaraderie among staff help create a friendly, no-pressure shopping vibe.
Two-thirds of the 3,000-square-foot market is dedicated to perishable, packaged and frozen food. This includes bread from local bakeries and a grab-and-go section with sandwiches, salads, cold drinks and other prepared foods for people on the run. The remaining shelves are lined with supplements, homeopathic remedies and unique health, beauty and self-care products. Customers can also browse the well-stocked book section for cookbooks and other nutrition- and health-related resources. Organic cotton clothing products are also sold.
Nancy Somera is a contributing editor for Natural Awakenings magazines and resides in Boston, MA.