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Five questions with Earth Fare’s president and CEO, Frank Scorpiniti

By Piper Castillo
Frank Scorpiniti is the chief executive officer and president of Earth Fare, a natural foods grocery store based in Asheville, N.C. The Oldsmar location brings the number of Earth Fare stores to 43. PIPER CASTILLO | Times

OLDSMAR ó Although he doesnít recommend it, Frank Scorpiniti, the president and CEO of Earth Fare, an organic and natural foods grocery store based in Asheville, N.C., likes to say customers can shop his store blindfolded.

"You can take a buggy from one end to another with your eyes closed and know you are not putting in it any dirty food, none of that bad stuff, because we do not have it in the store ó no high-fructose corn syrup, no artificial sweeteners, trans fats. It is all part of our clean food philosophy," he said.

We caught up with Scorpiniti this month while he was in town for the launch of the corporationís 43rd location. The 24,000-square-foot store is at Woodlands Square Plaza, 3136 Tampa Road. With 100 employees, it is the seventh Earth Fare in Florida and the second in Tampa Bay (Seminoleís location opened in 2016).

Scorpiniti, who holds a doctorate degree in pharmacy from the University of the Pacific, is the former chief executive officer of Rexall Pharma Plus, based in Ontario. He joined Earth Fare three years ago.

Was it a conscious decision to move your career from pharmaceuticals to natural foods?

It was intriguing that for a better part of 20 years, I was working with teams to help people with ailments get better with medication. However, that is more or less treating the disease that is already there and not always getting to the causality of the personís issues that would include diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia ó all diseases that often are food-based and are long-term results of not eating appropriately. I saw so many people that could benefit from having a more holistic approach to their health care. Food is medicine. Itís all, as we say, clean in this store. Thatís what intrigued me to come.

The health and wellness industry deals with such a personal part of a customerís life. As you expand with more stores, is it a challenge to keep the customerís experience on that personal level?

When I look back at the pharmacy business, it is centered on health, and as you say it is extremely intimate to the diagnosis and treatment. What we do here is also that way with our wellness adviser, what we call our wellness center and some of our wellness power stations. They are very intimate. When you scale and accelerate, you can lose that essential magic in the business, which for us goes back 42 years. Back in January, as we worked on accelerating our business, we, I like to say, renewed our vows. We started the Live Longer campaign with our food philosophy, the promise of only clean foods. We call it a manifesto, and actually I think itís more important to us on the inside and how we do things than on the outside.

You have competition in the area, places like the new Sprouts in Palm Harbor, Whole Foods in Clearwater. What is biggest challenge in this market?

The grocery business is highly competitive and very dynamic, and there are always going to be efforts and new ways on how to bring products to customers. At the same time, Earth Fare is so different from those competitors in our commitment to our food philosophy and staying clean. It makes us the only one who really does what we do.

There is something brand new to your industry going on with Whole Foods and Amazon coming together, and the way Amazon delivers their products. Are you worried?

I wouldnít say worried. Iíd say inspired. They really needed the brick and mortar to really put its proposition into the communities. So communities need a presence for fresh, prepared foods like Earth Fare. Every time competition comes into the market, it gives us an opportunity to look within ourselves and work to become a little more nimble and improve quality for what we do for our customers every day.

Why did you choose Seminole and Oldsmar over Tampa for your stores, and will you add more stores to the area?

We are actively looking for locations in the greater Tampa area. We will ultimately be in Tampa. We are looking for communities that are seeking a path to living a healthier, longer life. Itís a little bit about the magnetism of bringing options to moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas and brothers and sisters, everyone who wants access to an easy and healthy shopping environment.

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.