Nuts ’n Berries at 40: Mari and Kevin’s Excellent Adventure
Co-owners Kevin Parker & Mari Geier (Photo: Paul B. Chen)
“I’d go to jail for a million dollars! Would you?”
Mari Geier asked that of her partner, Kevin Parker, upon learning that the owners of a health food store in Tennessee were jailed for selling CBD products.
Geier and Parker own Nuts ’n Berries Healthy Market, the Atlanta health food store that is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. The two bought the business in 2015 from founders Mark and Soodi Kick. The original Brookhaven store was joined by a second one in Decatur in June. The new store occupies the same space as Rainbow Natural Foods, which closed in 2019 after 42 years of operation.
The Tennessee jailing occurred a few years ago when CBD, short for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive extract of the cannabis plant, was just emerging, and the laws surrounding it were unclear. As it turned out, the owners were awarded $1 million when they sued the state.
The Nuts ’n Berries owners got their million dollars, but they had to earn it the old-fashioned way. CBD, as it turned out, saved their store.
Their fortunes declined precipitously in 2016 when a new building went up across the street from their store and blocked their sign from those traveling north on Peachtree Road. According to Parker, their revenues immediately dropped by 20% to 25%. Things got so bad that they had to let everyone go except for a manager.
But with the emergence of CBD, the partners decided to go all in. Geier felt uniquely qualified to lead the charge. At the birth of many industries, market education is critical, and Geier holds a degree in horticulture and spent years in the athletic bootcamp industry teaching people fitness. As a result, Nuts ’n Berries went from earning $700,000 a year to $2 million. “We sold a million dollars of CBD last year,” says Geier.
Of course, food makes up the vast majority of Nuts ’n Berries’ floor space, and the owners are proud and vigorous supporters of local vendors. Parker estimates that 1,000 of the store’s 7,500 products are locally produced.
Geier, the outspoken evangelist of the pair, is not only a crusader for local enterprises but for what she calls the “new organic revolution.”
“We are going beyond the label to really analyze everything that local vendors put in and on your body.” For example, prospective vendors are asked about how and where ingredients are grown, how soil is managed, how workers are treated, how packaging materials are sourced, total carbon footprint, and more.
Pointing out that the margins on local vendor products are relatively small, Geier says, “This one thing differentiates us from every other big company because Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, Lidl, Sprouts—all of them—their bottom lines are all they care about.”
Given so many local products, what are customer favorites? Both immediately answer: Trust Yo Gut yogurt by Lisa Newman of Nolisk Foods. Made from almonds, the product comes in two flavors and only one size: 32 ounces. “People buy them two, three, four, five at a time,” says Parker. “They’re absolutely addicted to it.”
Considering how deep Geier’s knowledge is about organic and natural foods, it is almost curious that the owners say that they aren’t focused on hardcore organic foodies. “Our goal is to reach the beginner and be a bridge into the scary, overwhelming place that is a health food store,” says Geier.
Good thing, too. As it turns out, opening their Decatur store at the former location of Rainbow Natural Foods wasn’t the answer to the pent-up customer demand that they expected. After 42 years in business, Rainbow customers had a strong perspective on what a natural food store should be.
“Everybody said [the Decatur store] was beautiful, but then we got to the point where it’s ‘too clean, it’s too nice,’” says Geier. “They equated ‘clean’ and ‘nice’ with expensive.”
“Customers of Rainbow knew Rainbow for 20 to 40 years,” says Parker. “It’s almost like they’re family.” Chimed in Geier: “Our ask of them is to help build the history for the next 40 years.”
Nuts ’n Berries Healthy Market is located at 4274 Peachtree Road NE and 2118 N. Decatur Road. Visit NutsnBerries.com.