Dean’s Natural Foods brings non-GMO voice to the Jersey shore

By Ken Roseboro
Published: October 1, 2012

Category: Non-GMO company profiles

Non-GMO corn grown in the USA

Employees at Dean’s Natural Foods show support for Non-GMO Month

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An increasing number of individuals, organizations, and businesses nationwide are raising awareness about the risks of genetically modified foods. At the New Jersey shore, Dean’s Natural Foods is the leading voice, educating its customers and local communities about the importance of eating organic and non-GMO foods.

“No one else is taking this position,” says Dean Nelson, owner of Dean’s.

Based in Ocean Township, New Jersey—in the heart of Bruce Springsteen country—Dean’s has been in the natural food business since 1995 and operates two stores with 55 employees.

Three years ago in the depths of the recession, Nelson says he was happy his business was surviving. Now business is booming; his store in Shrewsbury, NJ is experiencing double digit growth, and a third store will soon be added. “Business has never been better,” he says. “This will be our biggest year by a landslide.”

Dean’s was chosen best health food store in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly, and earned similar regional accolades from the Asbury Park Press, and Monmouth Health & Life.

Dean’s stores thrive even though there is competition from a nearby Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and Wegman’s supermarket.

Keys to Dean’s success are produce departments featuring 100% organic fruits and vegetables, a juice and smoothie bar, and a certified nutritionist in each store.

There is also a commitment to “doing the right thing,” as Nelson says. As an example, Dean’s provides free food to a women’s residential cancer center in nearby Ocean Grove.

“People respect stores like ours, and what we represent,” Nelson says.

Non-GMO commitment

Providing non-GMO products and raising awareness about GMOs is also part of that “doing the right thing” commitment. Dean’s supports the Non-GMO Project and participates in the annual Non-GMO month.

Nelson admires the non-GMO commitment of Southern California retailer Jimbo’s Naturally, which refuses to stock foods that contain GMO-risk ingredients. But he feels such a commitment would be more difficult in New Jersey. “Knowledge about GMOs here is lagging, while it’s on the forefront in California,” he says.

For now, Nelson says his stores are taking initial steps to go non-GMO. They recently removed Dole and Del Monte products from their stores because of the companies’ opposition to California’s GM food labeling initiative, Proposition 37. They are also stocking more products featuring the Non-GMO Project seal. “When we bring in new products, if they are Non-GMO Project verified, it’s a huge plus,” Nelson says.

Nelson predicts continued strong demand for non-GMO products. “People will be looking for non-GMO products. It’s the right thing to do and good business to help develop the market for these products,” he says.

If we don’t speak out no one else will”

For Non-GMO month in October, Dean’s October flyer will feature Non-GMO Project verified products exclusively. On October 10, the stores will donate 5% of gross sales to the Non-GMO Project. All store “endcaps” will feature Non-GMO Project products. Courtney Pineau, Non-GMO Project communications manager, spoke at Dean’s in September. In the past two years, Dean’s even printed t-shirts to promote Non-GMO Month.

Unfortunately sales during previous Non-GMO months haven’t increased but Nelson says, “This year we’re really pushing hard to promote Non-GMO month.”

Nelson says educating people about GMOs is “a great fight that we are passionate about.”

He supports mandatory labeling of GM foods. “People have a right to know what’s going in their food. To some it won’t matter and to some it will and to those who it does matter, they have a right to know. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Getting the non-GMO message out the larger community is one of Dean’s missions. He got local newspapers to publish articles about GM foods. One newspaper offered a full page to support the Non-GMO Project.

Looking at the big picture, Nelson says “Our role in this community is more important than ever (because of the GMO issue). If we don’t speak out about this no one else will. This is a great opportunity for us to lead the way.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, October 2012