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Simple Abundance bulks up

Anna Boelman (left) helps her mother, Kiki Gheen, operate Simple Abundance in downtown Red Wing. The pair recently expanded the store's bulk foods section.1 / 2
A new bulk room was recently added to Simple Abundance. The store is now able to stock about twice as many bulk items as it previously did. New selections include more gluten-free pastas, legumes and grains.2 / 2

Anna Boelman and Kiki Gheen like to keep things simple.

The mother-daughter pair operates the downtown Red Wing health food store Simple Abundance. All of the products they stock are just about as far from complicated as they can get, coming from small farmers and local producers and containing organic ingredients.

"If it's not certified organic, there's a good chance it's local. We're constantly looking for small companies that believe the same things we do," Boelman said. "We're really careful about ingredients."

That means Boelman and Gheen make sure all the products they sell are free from things like genetically modified organisms and corn syrups. They're also careful about additives and preservatives, Boelman said.

So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that when owner Gheen decided to expand the store's bulk foods section, the pair found a way to do that as simply as possible too: by paying for straight out-of-pocket.

"I saved the money," Gheen said. "I didn't have to take out a loan."

Now the store is able to stock about 250 different bulk products -- about twice as many as before. New selections include many more gluten-free flours, legumes, pastas and grains. The store also stocks plenty of non-gluten-free products in addition to teas and spices.

Gheen said she began thinking about the addition -- and saving up the money -- about two years ago. Renovations included converting a small kitchen at the rear of the store into the bulk food room.

To replace the kitchen -- which Gheen and Boelman used to make hummus and smoothies and package produce -- they converted what was empty space at the rear of the store into an industrial kitchen.

The building process was recently completed, and the new bulk room opened last month.

Expanding the bulk food section was part of Gheen and Boelman's goal to expand their customer base, they said, adding that they want to bring organic and healthy eating to as many people as possible. By stocking more bulk, they're hoping to offer consumers more healthful options.

"How you live every day, small changes can make a difference," Boelman said. "Minimal time in the kitchen is a huge investment for your health and wellbeing."

They also want to show people that eating organically doesn't always mean spending more on groceries.

"We're teaching people that buying bulk ... saves you (money)," Gheen said.

For example, Boelman said that spices from the bulk section can be about 30 percent cheaper than their grocery store counterparts. The savings comes in part from the fact that the products are often fresher and more flavorful, meaning cooks can use less in their food.

The pair also noted that buying bulk doesn't mean that consumers need to buy large quantities.

"If you only need a half-cup, you can buy a half-cup," Boelman said, noting that that means less spoiled food. "There's a lot less waste."

And while the store's rows and rows of bins may intimidate some, Gheen and Boelman said there's no need to be scared. Boelman and Gheen said they and their employees spend a lot of time answering questions and helping people feel comfortable in the store.

"It's a huge amount of one-on-one," Gheen said. "I really feel like we've worked at making people feel comfortable. Whether you're brand-new or you know the products, we don't judge."

Lake City resident Betsy Witt was shopping in the bulk foods section last week. She said she frequently shops at Simple Abundance and is especially pleased with the new bulk room.

"The thing I love is all the gluten-free tags," she said. "This really is a nice addition. It's user friendly. It feels very inviting."

The details

What: Simple Abundance

Where: 318 Bush St.

Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday

More information: 651-388-0333,

Simple Abundance will celebrate its 13th anniversary May 4 with a day of food demonstrations.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.