NOSH: Grocery Outlet & Moving the Needle on Health Food Accessibility

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What is NOSH?

If you’re not overly familiar with the grocery industry, you may not be acquainted with the acronym NOSH, but you’re undoubtedly familiar with the concept. When it comes to groceries, NOSH stands for: Natural, Organic, Specialty, and Healthy. Foods with labels like “all-natural ingredients,” “plant-based,” “gluten-free,” and “no added sugar” all fall into the NOSH category.


Is NOSH affordable?

Besides signifying a healthier product, do you know what else these labels have in common? They’re typically accompanied by a hefty price tag. For many shoppers, NOSH products are priced just out of reach. Mass marketed, ultra-processed foods are cheap to make, profitable to sell, and more affordable to buy. Shoppers with limited income often fill their carts with these less-than-healthy food items simply because it’s more economical.

The problem is that things like taking care of your family’s health transcend economic barriers—or at least they should. How can we make wholesome food options accessible to those with limited financial resources? Look to retailers like Grocery Outlet

Walk into any Grocery Outlet location, and you’ll see entire sections of the store labeled “NOSH,” a term the discount grocer actually coined for itself (elsewhere in the food industry, NOSH sometimes stands for Natural, Organic, Sustainable, and Healthy). Grocery Outlet is so dedicated to the category that some stores have a dedicated NOSH buyer. The best part? Grocery Outlet just happens to be one of the most accessible markets out there.


Why is NOSH accessibility important? 

The ultra-processed foods we mentioned earlier? They’re widely available because they’re cheap, and they’re cheap because they’re widely available. It’s a positive feedback loop with some inarguably negative consequences. A recent analysis of 20 different studies on ultra-processed foods (UPFs) found that:

“High consumption of UPFs was obviously associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, overall cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, overall cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, gestational obesity, adolescent asthma and wheezing, and frailty.”

Aside from the individual health benefits that shoppers and their families might gain from purchasing (and eating) NOSH from stores like Grocery Outlet, there’s a public good to be accomplished by making healthy items more accessible.

For conventional retailers, NOSH-adjacent items are considered “upmarket,” meaning the target audience is relatively wealthy. The problem is, of course, that the vast majority of grocery shoppers aren’t wealthy, so sales of these items are low compared to ultra-processed foods. 

With fewer sales, manufacturers obviously produce fewer NOSH items, again perpetuating a feedback loop that keeps these healthier items more expensive and less accessible. 

So how do we get the flywheel spinning in the opposite direction? By making NOSH commodities easier to buy, more profitable to sell, and cheaper to produce. When given a choice, consumers are generally more likely to buy the cheaper of two items, whether they consider it a healthy food or not. What’s more, just a 1% decrease in pricing results in a greater than 1% increase in demand for a given product. That means that in terms of public health, there’s a good return on investment for making NOSH more affordable.

And it’s not just shoppers that stand to benefit. When goods like alternative proteins and pasture-raised egg and dairy products cease to be niche items for affluent customers, we can start to see the needle move on things like animal welfare, agricultural runoff, and climate change. In fact, investing in ways to reduce the cost of things like plant-based protein is believed to be  one of the most effective ways to fight climate change


How does Grocery Outlet make NOSH affordable?

Grocery Outlet operates on what’s called an “opportunistic” buying model—that is, they purchase their inventory at the steepest discounts possible by hunting for products with last cycle’s packaging or that have been overstocked. Manufacturers are incentivized to offload these items to resellers like Grocery Outlet, who pass the bargains onto their customers.

It’s precisely this buying strategy that makes Grocery Outlet uniquely positioned to promote accessibility for NOSH items. Where other retailers would have to pay higher margins for “organic” or “gluten-free” labels (and therefore charge a premium), Grocery Outlet can buy in a wide selection of competitively priced NOSH inventory and offer it for as much as 60% off the regular price. 

Such sizable discounts remove barriers between lower-income consumers and higher-quality food for them and their families. If business leaders and legislators leveraged more of their power to make these healthier foods accessible, we might hope to see a cascading effect on public health and the health of the planet.


Why NOSH matters to Buffalo Market

Buffalo Market was founded as a food distributor on a mission to positively impact the national food system. Like Grocery Outlet and others, we believe in making better-for-you food more accessible to a greater share of the country’s population. For our part, we tackle this by eliminating inefficiencies (and therefore costs) in the supply chain and by advocating for NOSH-qualified brands across major retailers. 

Working with like-minded food producers, wholesalers, and retailers, we know we can make a difference in how this country manages its food. Click here to learn more about Buffalo Market food distribution.

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