66 Things You Didn’t Know About Natural Grocers®

Natural Grocers 66th Anniversary

August 12-14, 2021


  1. A $200 loan and a dream. It’s true—that’s how Natural Grocers came to be.
  2. Our co-founder, Margaret Isely, fell in love with the science of nutrition and the healing power of nutritious foods and supplements through first-hand experience.
  3. Co-founders, Margaret and Philip Isely, went door-to-door selling whole-grain bread and loaning out books on nutrition to help educate and spread the joys of healthy living to neighbors in Golden, CO.
  4. The company, now known as “Natural Grocers,” was founded in 1955, but, the original name was “The Builder’s Foundation.” Our first brick and mortar store opened in 1958 on West Colfax in Denver, CO.
  5. Nutrition Education was at the core of The Builder’s Foundation—the Iselys taught the community that nutrition was an essential building block for excellent health.
  6. The company’s guiding force, now known as its Five Founding Principles, are the core values upon which Natural Grocers was founded and remain the guiding force to this day.  
  7. If you had the chance to observe Margaret Isely in a store back in the day, you’d often see a line of people waiting to ask questions and learn from her vast nutrition knowledge. Today, we continue that legacy with Nutritional Health Coaches (NHCs) in almost all stores.
  8. In the early 1960s, the Iselys converted a cottage-style house into their new store, inspiring the name change from “The Builder’s Foundation” to “Vitamin Cottage.”
  9. The original Vitamin Cottage sign was hand carved out of wood by Diane and Lark Isely. Today, the sign hangs in the Store Support Center in Lakewood, CO.
  10. Our produce department was 100% organic before there was an official “organic” designation and remains 100% organic to this day.
  11. We’ve always been active in promoting and protecting the integrity of the organic label, even though the National Organic Program (NOP) was not established under the U.S. Department of Agriculture until 1990.
  12. The Iselys were pioneers in the virtues of good nutrition and healthy lifestyles. When we first opened in 1955, the health food industry was nowhere near as robust as it is now. It wasn’t until the 1980s and early 1990s that health foods became popular and packaged health foods were more readily available.
  13. Margaret and Phillip Isely weren’t the only Iselys working at Vitamin Cottage in the early days. Their kids, Zephyr, Rock, and Lark, distributed store flyers around Lakewood, CO and Golden, CO. Their two younger children, Kemper and Heather, began helping out in the store at a young age.
  14. We were trendsetters in supplements—organizing them by type, rather than by company, making it easier to find what you needed. Other retailers eventually adopted the same set up.
  15.  If you worked for Margaret you were part of her family, even if your last name wasn’t “Isely,” that stays true to this day.
  16. Margaret used to take every Crew member out for lunch on their birthday to thank them for being born, for becoming a part of the Natural Grocers family, and for sharing their skills with us. As the company and number of Crew expanded, it was no longer possible to keep up. So today, to honor this tradition, we have “Birthday Bonus Pay”—Crew get an extra paid day off for their birthday, or if they want to work they get double pay.
  17. Margaret kept a community food cabinet at the first stores from which she would give families in need the ingredients for a nutritious meal.  To this day, we still donate to local food banks because in principle (as one of our Five Founding Principles) and in action, we were founded on a “Commitment to Community.”
  18. In the 1960s, we started pre-packing all bulk foods and refrigerating select bulk (nuts, seeds, and flours) to ensure quality, cleanliness, and freshness.
  19. In 2021, we expanded our Natural Grocers Brand Vitamins & Supplements to offer customers a comprehensive range of more than 100 vitamins, herbs, minerals, and precision formulas.
  20. The second Vitamin Cottage opened in 1974 in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood.
  21. All the Iselys have worked in Natural Grocers stores. Kemper and Heather, our Co-President and Executive Vice President, respectively, both started by filling bulk bags and running the cash register.
  22. Margaret and Philip Isely’s grandchildren have also worked on the cash registers, in the Distribution Center, filling bulk orders and still work at the Store Support Center. Natural Grocers truly is rooted in family.
  23. Zephyr was responsible for implementing Vitamin Cottage’s first volume buying plan—and we passed along the savings to our communities.
  24. You could say Margaret was the original Health Crusader—she was on a mission to educate the community about how good nutrition could benefit them. In fact, she was recognized as a leader in the industry for her depth of nutrition knowledge and her passion for educating others.
  25. Kemper created the Health Hotline Newsletter, which became part of the company’s growing collection of Nutrition Education tools and still exists today. You can subscribe on our website.
  26. Sometimes a little healthy sibling rivalry is a good thing: In 1989, the first produce rack was added to the Mission Trace store in Colorado. At the time, Kemper was the Store Manager and Heather was running the produce department. Six months later, for the first time ever, Mission Trace outsold the West Colfax store, where Zephyr (another one of the co-founder’s sons) was the Store Manager.
  27. Margaret was a visionary and an activist. In the 1970s, she was a leader in the grassroots movement to preserve the right to have access to dietary supplements. She served as president of the Natural Foundation for Nutritional Research, president of the Rocky Mountain Nutritional Foods Association, and executive council member of the National Nutritional Foods Association. She was inducted into the Natural Products Industry Hall of Legends in 2015.
  28. 100% organic produce has always been a critical part of how we support our communities and the environment. Keeping it fresh and well-stocked is an important job —since the produce water misting system wasn’t added until 2010, Crew used to manually water the produce every 20 minutes.
  29. In the 1990s, we experimented with different formats such as a deli counter, fresh baked bread, and fresh flowers, but found that the 100% organic produce department and expanding natural and organic grocery offerings was the way forward for Natural Grocers.
  30. We have high standards—since the 1990s we’ve kept a growing list of what we won’t sell in our stores and why. Bye, bye trans-fats, we hardly knew you!
  31. Our co-founders, Margaret and Philip Isely, believed nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle should be accessible to everyone. We still honor this message with our Always Affordable Prices®, so that healthy food remains affordable for our community members.
  32. Heather and Margaret lead a grassroots letter writing campaign to achieve passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) which provided the legal framework that regulates the natural products industry today.
  33. For a very short time in 1995, the company was called “Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Emporium.”
  34. Vitamin Cottage eventually became a misnomer—customers were surprised we carried more than vitamins, so it was time for a name change! In 2001, Rachelle Isely, the daughter-in-law of Margaret Isely, came up with the new name, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.
  35. In 1999, the second generation Iselys officially purchased the company from Margaret and Phillip. Between then and now (2021), we’ve opened more than 150 Natural Grocers.  
  36. By 2009, there were Natural Grocers in four states—Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. By the end of 2011, there were 52 stores in eight different states. Starting in 2019 you could find Natural Grocers in 20 different states—as far east as Louisiana.
  37. In July 2012, the company filed its Initial Public Offering (IPO).
  38. Not only does every good4u Crew member get a Crew discount, they also receive “Vitamin Bucks.” That’s right, at Natural Grocers, we have our own currency which used to be actual paper currency, but are now a simple card. For each hour worked, every full-time and part-time Crew member earns $1 of Vitamin Bucks. This benefit dates back to Margaret giving Crew healthy food to try so they could experience the benefits firsthand.
  39. We’ve been offering an alternative to conventionally raised Thanksgiving turkeys since 1989, pre-selling the birds prior to the holiday. This year, we’ve added pre-cooked turkeys as an option, making Thanksgiving easy. Don’t forget to pre-order with us beginning in October.
  40. The tradition of a year-end “Achievement Award” for all good4u Crew began with Margaret and is still alive today. We like to say, “thank you for your valuable contributions.”
  41. Books have played a pivotal role in the company starting when Margaret and Phillip went door-to-door lending books about nutrition to their neighbors. Today, every store has a book nook, where customers can find publications on a variety of health and wellness topics
  42. We eliminated the use of single-use plastic bags at our registers in 2009. Since then, we have prevented an estimated 400 million plastic bags and counting from ending up in landfills. At the same time, we also began donating 5 cents to local food banks when customers used their own reusable bags.
  43.  In 2020, we eliminated single-use plastic produce bags. Customers can now choose from compostable BioBags® or recyclable and compostable paper bags made from 100% recycled paper for their organic produce.
  44. Our own household label, Natural Grocers Brand Products, launched in 2018. The family brand you trust now has over 750 premium quality products at Always Affordable Prices, including items in grocery, frozen, bulk, supplements & vitamins, and household cleaners.
  45. {N}power, our free loyalty program, kicked off in 2015. We signed up our 1 millionth {N}power member during 2019’s Anniversary celebration.
  46. Natural Grocers is more than organic produce, healthy groceries, and vitamins & supplements. All our stores also boast a body care and beauty department with an extensive selection of safe, clean, transparent, and sustainable products.
  47. On a daily basis, our good4u Crew demonstrate that they are our customers’ heroes in aprons.
  48. Our annual Anniversary event, August 12-14, coincides with Margaret’s would-be 100th birthday (August 13) and because we love a good birthday celebration, our theme this year is birthday parties. Join us at your local store for the biggest sale of the year, freebies, giveaways, contests, and more.
  49. Margaret’s favorite treat was chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate syrup. She also loved root beer floats!
  50. Giving back is part of who we are. Throughout the year, we donate to various organizations including local community food banks, Jack and Jill of America and JJ’s College Graduation Assistance Program (GAP) Fund, Beyond Pesticides, and Organic Farmers Association.
  51. We sponsor bicycle teams in our communities. Currently, we sponsor teams in six regions, totaling 91 riders.
  52. Two of our stores used to be bowling alleys, one was a movie theater, and another an armory.
  53. In August 2020, we broke our own fundraising record for a single month by raising over $260,000 to help local food banks meet the growing needs of community members experiencing food insecurity.
  54. Natural Grocers is the only national grocery chain we know of that ONLY offers produce which is Certified 100% Organic.
  55. We are honored that we have the fifth-generation of some of our original family of customers currently shopping with us.
  56. Natural Grocers is active in 15 different advocacy and trade groups to support a wide variety of causes from health freedom to regenerative agriculture.
  57. Natural Grocers was Mo Segal's first customer for his wild-harvested herbs. He went on to found Celestial Seasonings Headquartered in Boulder, CO.
  58. Many natural food brands found their first lucky break on the shelves of Natural Grocers.
  59. We are still the only national chain to support a full-time Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) in almost all stores who provide free Nutrition Education to the surrounding community. Customers can schedule free, one-on-one coaching sessions or participate in classes and cooking demonstrations with our NHCs and guest speakers.
  60. Health Crusader and Organica Girl, our heroes in capes, fight the good fight against unhealthy and expensive groceries to make sure that you have access to nutritious, organic, and always affordable food for you and your families.
  61. Natural Grocers is part of a coalition of 7,000 independent natural food and dietary supplement retailers keeping the flame alive for natural health products.
  62. Our closing hours might seem a little odd to some (i.e. 9:06 p.m., 8:35 p.m.), but we did that on purpose—to remind customers that they are always welcome and that they shouldn’t feel rushed when shopping with us.
  63. We are Certified Organic Food Handlers. All stores are inspected annually by an organic certifying agency to ensure that we are only using organic-approved processes and cleaning products. This certification, plus the company’s commitment to selling only 100% organic produce, guarantees the integrity of their produce from farm to basket to table.
  64.  As a company that’s always conscious of its environmental footprint, our stores include energy-saving innovations and non-toxic building materials.
  65. We have always been leaders in the Health Food Industry and continue to innovate and bring new initiatives to the table. In July 2021, we introduced our certified organic hydroponic GardenBox℠ at the Green Mountain – Lakewood, CO store so now our customers can enjoy super fresh organic leafy greens grown just 82 steps from the produce aisle. Be on the lookout for a GardenBox at your local store.
  66. In 2021, the Natural Grocers Heroes in Aprons Fund was established to provide both short- term financial assistance to our good4u Crew who experience unanticipated hardships, and direct grants to our charity partners in the community. During our 66th Anniversary celebration, we are donating 1% of sales on August 12 to the nonprofit.


Thank you for being a part of our Natural Grocers family and continuing to support us over the last 66 years!