Health food shops are usually either dull, dusty and stuck in a time warp; or overwhelm with too many intimidating ingredients that no-one’s ever heard of. As Nature Intended is different. Yes, there are esoteric ingredients here, too – but it’s a bright, airy, handsome space with an industrial-warehouse-meets-Scandi-chic look that gives it the feel of being contemporary and on-trend. Plenty of space between the aisles, plus friendly and enthusiastic staff, makes shopping here a pleasure.
This multi award-winning organic food business was first set up in 2000 by Malcolm Walker, the founder of Iceland, and the first Chiswick branch was well-received by the locals. Walker’s daughter Caroline Gooding took over the business two years later; and in 2010, Jeff Martin, who has worked for Fresh & Wild and Whole Foods Market, was appointed Managing Director. There are branches in Ealing, Balham and Westfield Stratford City; and this store, located close to Spitalfields market, opened in May.
ANI sources products according to how they affect the environment, animal welfare, fair trade practices and small British businesses. As many as 80% of the items are certified organic; and all are free from artificial chemicals, preservatives and pesticides. Store manager Annette Pillay told us that the only non-organic foods are ones where they can’t find an organic version, or going organic would make them unrealistically expensive. There’s a wide range of raw, gluten-free and dairy-free groceries, too.
All of the fruit and veg are organic, and sourced as locally as possible. The ones that are from abroad are shipped rather than flown – another eco brownie point. The greengrocery shelves are laden with edible flowers, every type of sprouted beans, multi-coloured ‘wild tomatoes’ (£2.79 sale price), and rocket from Barduca agricultural firm in Italy (£2.49/125g). You’ll find pots of wheatgrass, and little tubs of currently-fashionable black garlic from La Abuela Carmen in Spain. The trend of using turmeric, especially in drinks, is sweeping over London right now; here the fresh root is sold for £1.40/100g (and it’s rare to find the organic variety).
Nearby is a counter displaying ‘slow-cured’ olives from The Fresh Olive Company (£1.69/100g). There’s a small selection of breads, too, including Bakeoven pain d’Alsace and four-grain loaf, Paul’s spelt tortilla wraps, and Celtic Bakers celtic soda bread. A fridge close by is filled with ready meals by VegiDeli, assorted dips, fresh pastas, jars of miso, tempeh, Tims Dairy yoghurts, and a few cheeses. There’s also a good selection of tofu, including Viana hazelnut tofu, and Taifun tofu fillets with wild garlic. If you’ve never tasted kefir, grab some Nourish kefir to give it a go before it becomes a ‘food trend’ (buttermilk is soooo last year darling!). At the back is a small range of ethical seafood and meats, including hot and spicy chicken drumsticks, and lamb and mint sausages from various companies, notably the highly acclaimed Rhug Estate.
There are aisles packed with biscuits, nut butters, jams, spreads, honeys, agave nectars, and sugars including speciality varieties such as coconut palm sugar. Flours for gluten-free baking include almond flour and coconut flour. In fact, coconut products such as oil and butter, hugely popular in the ‘special diets’ sector right now, are given their own small section here. Another ‘special diets’ classic is ‘Bragg liquid aminos’, which is found alongside oils, vinegars, sauces, seasonings, spices, pickles, condiments, and pasta sauces. Pastas made from wholegrain, spelt, rice and quinoa are also sold. There are excellent Clearspring Japanese products, including a range of seaweeds; and alternative ‘milks’, such as Provamel macadamia nut milk (£2.95) that’s newly introduced.
You can buy cereal by the weight: malted bran flakes cost as little as 50p/100g, and oat flakes are even cheaper at 20p/100g. The variety and quality of nuts, grains and savoury nibbles is particularly excellent – and again, these can be bought by weight for as little as 50p/100g for golden linseeds or spicy chickpeas. There are also beans here of a different kind: coffee beans from Columbia, Ethiopia and Sumatra, which you can grind in the shop's on-site machine (£1.80/100g). There’s even ‘healthy’ chocolate – raw, vegan and containing superfoods – including the high-quality Pana brand from Australia that’s not widely available in the UK.
In fact, ANI stocks more raw foods than we’ve seen anywhere else. The ones that caught our eye are the best-selling Pura Vida Living Raw broccoli bread (£7.15), Rawlicious brazil nut and thyme crackers, and Great Taste Awards-winning Primrose Kitchen raw beetroot and ginger muesli (£5.95). There’s a section devoted to superfoods, which includes items such as ‘organic psyllium husks’ (no, we don’t know what they are either); plus other speciality items such as bee pollen granules, olive leaf extract and xanthan gum. There are separate gluten-free and dairy-free sections, too; and freezers are filled with items such as Lick fat-free frozen yoghurt (£4.50) and Wheyhey high-protein sugar-free ice cream (£6.50). Crispbreads, energy bars and snacks such as the popular Foods of Athenry flapjacks are also to be found; along with herbal tea, soft drinks, and organic wines, beers and ciders.
In the takeaway section by the payment counter, you can buy healthy juices such as Savse broccoli, pear, spinach and kale juice (£4.95); plus colourful salads, sandwiches and trays of falafel. Raw lunch items include Raw Imagination’s ‘raw BLT with coconut bacon’ (£5.95), ‘raw pizza’ (£5.50), and ‘raw burger’ (£6.50). At the back of the shop, there are also aisles devoted to baby food, natural remedies and household products. And if you’re mystified by some of the items, or just want to explore different brands, ANI hosts lots of tastings on a regular basis, details of which you’ll find in its events calendar. The way Londoners eat has been changing rapidly and dramatically, with gluten-free, dairy-free and raw foods becoming more and more mainstream – even among chefs and foodies who may not otherwise have any allergies, intolerances or medical conditions. This high street store makes such items widely accessible.
As Nature Intended, The Exchange Building, 132 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, E1 6NG. Tel: 020 7247 9596.
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Note: businesses featured in this series are chosen editorially, and not as part of a promotion.