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Wild Oats opens on Nassau Street, to sell organic food

There is a new store in town. They offer meat, vegetables and pastas at higher prices than run-of-the-mill grocery stores. They don't sell many of the daily goods that normal grocery stores do. But unlike traditional stores, this chain has seen sales grow by $270 million since 1992. It is called Wild Oats, and it has now reached Princeton.

Wild Oats officially opened yesterday for business at 255 Nassau St., where Davidson's was previously located. New store owner Greg Lauterbach said he was pleased with Wild Oats' first day in Princeton.


"We didn't advertise, so it has been very good turnout and a very positive reception," he said. "The mayor was here this morning and we have been seeing college kids and high school students as well."

Founded in the late 1980s, Wild Oats sells natural foods and organically grown produce, as well as free-range chicken and meat free of antibiotics or hormones. It is aimed at a new generation of shoppers who are wary of man-made chemicals and other impurities in their food. Wild Oats appears to have found its market: In 1997, they posted sales of $311 million.

Potential market

Wild Oats CEO Mike Gilliland told The Times of Trenton that he chose to open the store in Princeton because of the potential market.

"The residents are highly educated, concerned about the environment and lead active lifestyles," he said. These factors would draw consumers to Wild Oats in spite of the higher prices, he said.

Lauterbach said while organically grown produce is more expensive than its generic counterpart, this will not always be the case.

"Organic prices are higher because there aren't many organic farmers, but as they become more widespread, prices will decrease," Lauterbach said.


The opening of Wild Oats creates competition for the Whole Earth Center on Nassau Street, which also sells natural foods and organic produce. Assistant manager Rich Schiafo said while Wild Oats is "a little too close for comfort," he sees no reason why the two stores cannot both succeed. "With our 28-year history and reputation, we should be able to maintain our clientele," he said. "Hopefully, this community is big enough for both of us."

Breaking out of the traditional grocery store mold, Wild Oat's Princeton branch boasts local favorites such as Carver's Cafe and Small World Coffee inside the store. Carver's Cafe, which recently closed its Nassau Street branch, will be revived as a food service department, while Small World Coffee will provide beverages for the coffee and juice bar. Wild Oats will also feature monthly cooking classes, children's events and farmers' markets.

Students react

USG campus and community affairs committee chair Brad Saft '00 said, "The emergence of Wild Oats is a great opportunity for the University and the town, filling a void by catering to those who are not served by the existing businesses in the area."

Spelman resident Brandy Ries '98 said the new store would be an advantage for her roommates, "since they are into natural foods," but said that for her personally, a more general shop like Davidson's would have been better. Jamie Dunlop '98 echoed the sentiment. "I am not likely to pay more for better quality vegetables," he said.

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Not everyone, however, is as undiscerning. Pamela Franklin '98 said she was happy about having Wild Oats within walking distance of campus.

"If they have high quality fruits and vegetables," she said, "I think it is worth it to pay more if it tastes better."