Keeping It Real Since 1973: The 4 Best Things About Oryana Natural Foods Market

Julie Bitely

| 5 min read

The South American goddess of fertility and abundance, Oryana, makes a fitting namesake for a blossoming natural food co-op in Traverse City.
Oryana Natural Foods Market is abundant in natural foods and resources and ripe for community growth and awareness of the impact they have on health. General Manager Steve Nance said it’s not hard to understand why the name was a good fit when the co-op was first conceived in 1973 and why it became even more appropriate as the store’s mission and outreach continue to grow and evolve.
“It totally fits,” Nance said. “It’s just what we do.”
A Natural Community
Nature’s abundance is evident as you walk through aisles brimming with organic fruits and vegetables delivered by local farmers. The natural principles that guide the store – the largest natural food co-op in Michigan and the first food co-op in the country to be designated a Certified Organic Retailer – extend to large selections of bulk food, packaged goods, beauty products, supplements and wellness solutions, as well as Fair Trade coffees and teas. Smoothies and raw juices are served alongside fresh, hearty meals at the store’s Lake Street Café.
Oryana's Lake Street Cafe has a wide, healthy variety to choose from.
Oryana’s Lake Street Cafe has a wide, healthy variety to choose from.
The fertility aspect of the co-op’s conception and growth boils down to community and growing a business that’s based on more than profit. Core values of economy, localism, wellness, education, and being a model workplace drive everything the store does.
Whether it’s wellness presentations to local businesses or playing a part in health fairs and conferences, staff at Oryana meet people where they live to spread the word about the connection between eating well and health. In-store nutrition and cooking classes further a commitment to help people live well and embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Green Roots
The co-op, which is owned by members who financially support the store, operates according to the 7 Cooperative Business Principles, as do most co-ops. The clean and bright renovated space the co-op occupies was built using LEED protocols and utilized green building techniques such as using recycled materials in the construction.
It’s a big leap from the porches and garages the loosely formed buying club called home in the early 70s. The co-op doubled the size of the store in the late 2000s to its current 9,000 square feet. Nance said the expansion project and increased community outreach helped to increase members threefold to about 6,600 today.
Because of its prominent role in the Traverse City market, it was named the 2014 Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Hagerty Small Business of the Year.
Moving Innovation Forward
The store certainly isn’t resting on its laurels. Nance said in recent years, the store has seen an uptick in customers coming in on the recommendation of their doctor after being prescribed a healthier eating regimen. They’ve developed programs and classes to advise patients with a celiac disease diagnosis or who have other dietary restrictions that have led them to seek alternative foods at Oryana.
“People are realizing more and more that what you eat impacts your health,” Nance said.
Community outreach is another area the store continuously evaluates, looking for creative ways to engage and inspire. Oryana has sponsored documentaries at The State Theatre that advance the local food movement. They also have a full-time educator on staff developing educational modules that teachers can use in their classrooms, with topics ranging from fruits and vegetables to GMOs in foods, depending on the age of students.
Partnering for Growth
Oryana storefront
Supporting local businesses and farmers is also core to their mission. The co-op has helped local farmers complete requirements to attain certified organic status, which Nance said is an example of how co-op principles and standards can help move food producers in the right direction.
“Growing small farmers is part of what we do,” Nance said.
Local brands such as Food for Thought and The Redheads, known for their hummus, got their start on the shelves at Oryana and can now be found at Whole Foods. Nance said the store is happy to serve as an incubation site for local companies to sell their products, provided they meet the co-op’s purchasing standards.
Another thing you’ll find at Oryana is helpful and friendly staff. If you look like you need help, you will be helped. The co-op’s standards place a high priority on building up their employees, so much so that their human resources area is referred to as “human development”. The company has moved to hire more full-time staff and taken on more of the burden for health care costs. Employees are paid a living wage and are encouraged to develop their strengths as employees and human beings.
“We call it the amazing Oryana experience,” Nance said. “It’s part of the culture and being a model workplace is really a part of that. That way we are able to keep knowledgeable, committed, and engaging staff.”
Are you a co-op member or natural food store shopper? Where do you go and why? Tell us in the comments and if you need some recommendations, check out this post, which also features Oryana.
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Photo credit: Paul Sableman

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