One of the central features of our Spring 2021 issue was an interview with Alan McGrath of Health Stores Ireland. We engaged in a wonderful conversation about the pivotal role health stores are playing in communities at this time, helping us all to stay connected. Read on to enjoy the article.
Supporting Community Wellness
We chat to Health Stores Ireland
by Aisling Cronin
Maintaining great health and supporting small businesses have emerged as top priorities for many of us over the last year. Communities all over Ireland have come to deeply appreciate the dedication, care and expertise offered by small, independent health stores. These stores have, in many cases, served as community hubs, connecting people who share a passion for optimising their wellbeing, while also supporting local producers.
Small health stores are the places that many of us visit for food and care products that will nourish us, and conversations that will sustain us. The friendliness and knowledge levels of small store owners and staff are second to none.
With this in mind, I was pleased to chat with Alan McGrath of Health Stores Ireland, to learn more about the association and the role they play in supporting independent health stores across the length and breadth of the country.
‘We represent over 70 retailers, from Bandon to Buncrana,’ he explained. ‘This would include individual “mom and pop shops”, with maybe one or two people on staff, to groups like Health Matters in Leinster, Evergreen in Galway, or Horans in Munster, who would have a few stores. Our role as an association is primarily to give people a network. So we have a members’ forum that enables people to exchange ideas and information, and we also do surveys and training programmes to benefit our members and give them new skills and information.’
A core part of the group’s ethos is to ensure that health store staff are fully trained in hygiene and safety protocols.
‘The primary aim of our health food stores is the promotion of natural foodstuffs, organically grown where possible, as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle,’ Alan tells me. ‘We have a rigorous hygiene protocol in place to ensure high standards of safety in our stores. We have a specific code of ethics, helping our stores to trade responsibly, and we are proud of that.’
Community resilience has emerged as a strong theme for societies around the world over the past year. Moving forward requires that we work together – on an international scale, right down to small towns and villages – and pool our resources. Alan believes that the greatest strength of the Irish Health Stores association is its spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness.
‘We give store owners a space to share and learn from other stores. The nature of the group is that people are very generous with their time and advice, so anybody who comes into the group finds very quickly that it adds an incredible value to their business model.’
‘We’ve found that over the last few years, the local health store has begun to play a role that is similar to the one corner shops would have played two or three decades ago,’ he adds. ‘More and more often, the local health food store is turning into a small community hub, and we are here to support that.’