Gone are the days when just plain-old vegetarians or vegans were the bread and butter of health food stores. A growing number of specialty grocery stores are finding a huge market in Hillsborough County for everything from gluten-free and organic to non-GMO products.
Whole Foods Market opened a store at the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Northdale Boulevard in Carrollwood on Nov. 1 of this past year. Officials with The Fresh Market recently announced it has signed a lease at the Lithia Crossing shopping center on Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Brandon.
Amy Rogers, the owner of Harmony Yoga and Wellness Center in Carrollwood, said for her, adopting a healthier diet came before exercise and other lifestyle changes.
"I love that we are getting so many health food stores in town," Rogers said. "You just get to try different of varieties by shopping at different stores. I rarely buy items from a traditional grocery store."
Rogers said she tries to eat organic food whenever possible.
"Gluten isn't too much of an issue for me, but the least amount of processing," she said. "I don't like boxed foods. I rather buy all the ingredients and make things myself."
Although Rogers feels comfortable cooking and selecting products, some customers may feel confused or overwhelmed by the different choices.
Anna Payne, the marketing team leader for the Carrollwood Whole Foods Market, said in the month of January shoppers can schedule to have a private, guided tour of the store and its products.
"Here at the Carrollwood store, for month of January, we are offering free personal shopping session with our healthy eating specialist," Payne said. "She will take you around the store and help you pick out different healthy items and tell you how to use them, how to cook them and how to pair them with other items."
Gretchen Garcia, the healthy eating specialist with a station at the Carrollwood store, will help individuals meet their nutrition and health goals whether it's to become a vegetarian or adopt a gluten-free diet.
"If people want to get healthier for the New Year, they have someone they can seek advice and information from," Payne said.
Throughout the year, shoppers at the Carrollwood Whole Foods Market may participate in the "Health Starts Here" program, which helps them identify unprocessed foods made without added oil or sugar. Foods that are "plant strong" and more natural receive a "Health Starts Here" label, according to Payne. She said Whole Food Market also takes part in the "non-GMO Project," by labeling products that contain no genetically modified ingredients.
Even though it's hot, going organic isn't the only major trend.
"We have noticed we are getting a lot of gluten-free shoppers coming into the store," Payne said. "We carry a wide variety of that from everything to potato chips to breads to pastas, the snack foods. That's the biggest trend -- looking for a good selection of gluten free."
Garcia said the Carrollwood location is the second Whole Foods Market in the Tampa Bay area, but the first freestanding store.
"I definitely think there is room for everyone," Payne said. "People are wanting to eat healthier -- not just fruits and vegetables. They want to know where there food is coming from. They want to eat more organic and natural."
Other specialty grocery stores in Hillsborough County include Chuck's Natural Food Marketplace with locations in Brandon and Temple Terrace as well as Abby's Health and Nutrition at 14374 N. Dale Mabry in Carrollwood. Carrollwood is also home to a Fresh Market located in The Palms shopping center.
According to The Fresh Market company press release, the European-style market has built its reputation on being "an extraordinary food destination store."
"From bountiful produce and a full-service meat counter to convenient prepared foods and an in-store bakery, customers will discover that our stores are committed to variety, freshness and value as well as superior customer service," said Craig Carlock, The Fresh Market's president and CEO.