With the opening of its new store in east Winnipeg, Vita Health has completed its 11-year transformation from a chain of health food stores to a full service grocery chain.
“We began (in terms of groceries) by introducing organic produce,” says Vita Health president Mathew Holtmann. “Organic produce was something our customers were asking for. It wasn’t as readily available ten years ago as it is now.
“We found that we were getting more and more demand for grocery products that every time we upgraded or expanded one of our stores, we introduced a full selection of grocery lines. Our Kildonan Crossing Shopping Centre store was the last one to begin offering a full complement of grocery products. We have had a lot of success with our new format.”
The newly built 5,300 sq.-ft.-store is across from the street from the much smaller former Vita Health location in that part of the city.
“The area (Regent Avenue in East Kildonan) is a major retail node and serves a large customer base in the northeast part of the city," says Holtmann. Vita Health’s other five locations are similarly located in major retail shopping areas strategically placed to service every part of the city.
Holtmann says that the new location—as with its sister stores—feature dairy products, meat and fish, fresh bread and produce as well as its traditional supplements and health and beauty products. The latter three items still account for 40% of the company’s sales.
“Our supplements and health and beauty product sales are still growing,” he says. “Customers who come in for groceries will also often buy supplements.”
The new location also includes its own urban cultivator, allowing micro-greens, wheat grass and various herbs to be grown in the store.
Vita Health was founded by Holtmann’s German immigrant grandfather, Gerhard Seier, in 1936. He started with a mail order business selling traditional European remedies to European –born residents. In the early 1950s, he opened his first retail location in downtown Winnipeg.
Seier’s son-in-law, John Holtmann (Matthew’s late father), came into the business in 1971. The company also opened a second location in the city in the 1970s. In 1979, Seier transferred ownership of the business to his three children.
Over the following 20 years, Vita Health expanded to its current number of stores. John Holtmann became president in 1998. Matthew Holtmann joined the family business in 2000 and was appointed president in 2011.
Holtmann says that the Vita Health concept has been so successful because people have become more conscious of what they’re eating and more concerned about protecting the environment.