Basking Ridge residents not only have a new source for buying natural foods, but a place where they can become part of a community that supports people seeking to "incorporate wellness in their lives," according to the owner of the latest branch of Dean's Natural Food Market, Dean Nelson.
"A year ago, I had never even heard of Basking Ridge," Nelson said, but when the owner of the 100 Marketplace wanted to add a natural foods store to the complex and invited Nelson to take a look, he eagerly agreed to venture into new territory.
The Basking Ridge market is the third location in New Jersey. Nelson had opened the first of two stores 16 years ago, and built a strong customer base in the South Jersey locations of Ocean Township and Shrewsbury.
"We're excited to spread our wings and introduce ourselves to a community that's not familiar with us," Nelson said at the official Basking Ridge store opening last Friday. "It's a chance to develop a rapport with new customers and expose them to what we're so passionate about."
Community is a word Nelson uses a lot, because he started his company in search of a new business model, one that provides a special culture and a fuller experience that goes beyond mere food shopping.
"Our customers are looking for knowledge, interaction and education," Nelson said. "These are people who understand the impact of organic, they don't pollute, they bring their own recycled bags back in — they're the ones who are out there cleaning up the beaches and always supporting and giving back to their own communities."
Shoppers who venture into Dean's Natural Food Market can be assured that all the produce is 100 percent certified organic — an advantage over other local supermarkets, many of which carry organic goods but also stock conventional fruits and vegetables, he noted. A central focus of the store is the fresh salad and grains bar, and the Juice Bar, where last Friday, customers sampled a complimentary and eclectic assortment of whole-grain breads and crackers, nuts, salsas and spreads.
Among the specialty smoothies juice baristas mix up are the "High Vibe:" banana, cacao, lucuma, Peruvian maca root, agave nectar, and soy, rice or almond milk and the "Bunny Buzz:" carrots, strawberry, banana, flax oil and bee pollen. Protein shakes, healing elixirs, detoxifying tonics and straight juice drinks are also on the menu.
Nelson says the market's mission includes educating the public on the issue of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, and stocks non-GMO alternatives whenever possible. A full-time nutrition consultant is on hand to advise shoppers on less familiar items and to help them choose among the wide selection of bulk foods and the "grab-n-go" organic entrees, sides and sandwiches that are house-made by chefs in the South Jersey flagship.
Nelson prides his business "first and foremost, on the fresh produce, because we want to support small farmers and we don't want pesticides and herbicides in our foods. But we also advocate for non-GMO whole grains and other products made by manufacturers who practice good business ethics."
All of the health and beauty and cleaning products in the market are free of harmful chemicals, preservatives and dyes, are cruelty-free and environmentally friendly.
Even the aisles that look like traditional grocery shelves, stacked with boxes and bottles, on close inspection reveal that an unusual amount of choices are gluten-free, vegan/ vegetarian and sugar-free. The dairy aisle abounds with organic milk and milk alternatives, cheese and cheese substitutes and organic cage-free eggs. Along with natural and organic deli meats and chicken is a wide selection of macrobiotic and raw foods.
One of Dean's slogans is "We've read the labels for you" — and there are way too many unfamiliar and enticing labels for shoppers to read themselves.
Dean's Natural Food Market
25 Mountainview Boulevard
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.