By Jon Lewis
Photo by Betsy Erickson
Orchard Nutrition in Redding
In the beginning, consumers who sought out vitamins, supplements and organic foods were known as “health food nuts” and if they entered the public consciousness at all, it was usually as a punch line.
Today, Joe Martino, the owner of Orchard Nutrition, says those kind of shoppers are simply known as smart. “It’s not a fad anymore, it’s just awareness. Everybody’s interested and concerned about what they’re eating.”
When he started his business in 1982, those so-called health nuts who shopped at health food stores made up about 18 percent of shoppers. Today, he says, “you can’t even come up with an average.”
People routinely shop at both health food stores and conventional markets. Even the giants, like Costco and Wal-Mart, now feature shelves stocked with vitamins and supplements.
The problem, Martino says, is the same one he faced back in the mid-1970s when he was diagnosed with cancer and set out to learn more about nutrition, vitamins and supplements: useful information is difficult to come by.
“It was very frustrating to me when I couldn’t get answers. Half of what I was hearing was just people repeating whatever the sales guy would tell them,” Martino says.
So, Martino decided to educate himself. He enrolled at Bastyr University, an accredited college that emphasizes natural health, and received a degree in nutrition. He began attending conferences and hounding the experts. “Biochemists thought I was a pain in the butt. I was always on the phone,” he recalls.
“When I obtained the knowledge to help myself, I thought I could help others,” he says of his decision to open a store in Redding. “I never thought it would get this big, but it’s grown every year.”
Martino attributes that growth to Orchard Nutrition’s practices. When he started in the business, “people had this concept that you should double the price of vitamins. I didn’t. I marked them up like groceries and people responded really well.”
Orchard Nutrition quickly outgrew its Park Marina Drive location and in 1984 Martino purchased a 10,000-square-foot former fabric store on Locust Street, where the store has been for the past 30 years.
As the store grew, Martino added to its line of products and services, including a deli and bakery, organic produce, bulk foods and herbs, grass-fed beef, gluten-free products, groceries and pet foods.
Martino says he’s particularly proud of Orchard Nutrition’s vitamin and supplement selection and employees, including nutritionists, who are available to help customers.
“Having four nutritionists on staff doesn’t really make sense since that comes out of our profits, but we look for customer loyalty rather than profit margins and I think it has paid off. People have kept coming in, even during the recession.
“We’re not here to sell things or grab anybody’s money; we’re here to help them if we can and people have responded to that since the beginning,” Martino says. The store’s growth also is a function of trust: “The growth of our inventory is mostly because of the request of customers, plus the knowledge we’ve gained from schools and conferences. (Customers) can be sure it’s ethical, pure and the right stuff. There are no reclaimed, discontinued, damaged or closeout products. People can trust us to be the gatekeepers.”
Orchard Nutrition has a staff of 45 and the store has long been a family affair. Martino says his six grandchildren have all worked at the store at one time or another, and his daughter, Vicki Leide, has branched out to produce her own line of gluten-free mixes under the Amazing Foods for Life label. Leide’s husband, Huck, still works for Martino.
Martino himself moved west from Philadelphia and started a leather business in Orange County. Six years later, in 1980, the clean air and small-town feel of Redding brought him north and he opened a leather shop in the former downtown mall called Hide & Sheep.
He closed his shop in 1982—“I made coats and purses, but I was a vegetarian selling hides, and that just didn’t work,” he says—and opened Orchard Nutrition.
221 Locust St.