Family Nutrition Center celebrates 45th anniversary
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – For the past 45 years, supporting the nutritional health of Greater Green Bay families has been the passion of Steve and Debbie Lankford, owners of Family Nutrition Center (FNC) on Lombardi Ave.
Since meeting at a natural healing and living mission training school in Guatemala, the Lankfords have dedicated their lives to sharing knowledge of natural living with those throughout the community.
“We learned all about healthy living in those three years,” Steve Lankford said. “We met there. We got married there. And we had our first son there. When we left Guatemala, we went to visit my wife’s family and then we came to visit my family. We stayed, and decided that really we were quite well prepared to open a health food store. We would take what we had learned and help others learn how to choose better foods, prepare them, understand the role of vitamins and herbs and nutritional supplements. And so that is what led us to open up Family Nutrition Center here in Green Bay.”
They first opened shop in an old Tasty Freeze property at 753 Lombardi Ave. in 1976.
“That was a very small place, for which we only stayed for one year, we out-grew it,” Steve Lankford said. “Then we moved up to Ridge Road, right across from Packers stadium. So, where Lodge Kohler is now. There was a little strip mall there with a laundromat and Play-it-Again Sports. We were in that little strip mall for 14 years. And then we moved to this location – 850 Lombardi Ave. – in 1991 and we’ve been here for 30 years.”
Lankford said the challenge, in the beginning, was health foods and nutritional supplements were not well-known.
“Nobody knew much about natural foods,” he said. “We were called food faddists, health food nuts, food quacks, I mean we heard it all… So, there was not a whole lot of popular knowledge or acceptance of living or eating healthfully.”
Lankford said education has always been a major focus at FNC.
“We started natural food cooking classes here because people didn’t know how to procure these foods or make them on their own,” he said. “So we taught people how to make whole wheat bread, how to make granola. So probably for six years or so we had natural food cooking classes where we took people through all the steps.”
From there, Lankford began sharing his knowledge on a radio show for 20 years, and most recently in podcasts.
Lankford’s podcasts can be found online at healthquestpodcast.com or through podcast apps.
When FNC started in 1976, Lankford said it was a typical health food store, but has transitioned into specializing in supplements.
“When we started we sold food, vitamins, cosmetics, books,” he said. “And when we moved to this location, the grocery stores were starting to offer their natural foods and that has grown over the years. So we focused on nutritional supplements at that time. So 85% of our business is in nutritional supplements and only about 5% in food, while it might have been 35% at one time.”
FNC puts its focus on the in-store customer and hasn’t branched out to online sales.
“We have a website, but it is really for our customers to know what our specials are,” he said. “I decided it is a big job to compete with these national, warehouse supplement stores. We do mail order, but it is to our own customers, people who know we have great prices. We are actually very competitive with pricing.”
Lankford said he has seen many changes in the health food industry over the years.
“It has changed a lot since we first started because health food stores were the only places where you could buy your vitamins, or buy your natural foods, so everybody who was interested would come in here,” he said. “So, you’d have the older generations who were always interested. Then you’d have their kids, and when they became parents, their kids would be coming in. We saw a lot of those generational customers.”
Lankford said the customer base doesn’t grow the way it used to because people have many other alternatives in terms of shopping.
“The kind of customer we attract is the one who really wants some personal contact,” he said. “Somebody they can ask questions to and get some guidance as to the differences between products and brands and potencies. That has always been our claim to fame is this sort of high-touch approach. So we attract the kind of customers that are looking for that.”
Lankford said it is his staff that is the backbone of this approach.
“We don’t just have a clerk that can point to a product, we can actually help you brainstorm a solution,” he said. “So education has always been a big part of what we do.”
A pivotal point in the area of natural products was the enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994.
“This was the biggest deal in our history and the history of the natural products industry,” Lankford said. “Because, for three years, from 1991 to 1994, a huge grassroots effort throughout the country led to the passage of DSHEA. And that is what has allowed us to enjoy this great growth and proliferation of natural products.”
Lankford said out of the bill came the concept of structure-function.
“If it is good for your structure – meaning calcium is good for your bones, or something is good for your muscles – those are structure claims,” he said. “Or function, if it helps you think more clearly. So it is either structure or function claims that we can make, and we can’t make medical claims, which makes perfect sense to me.”
Looking forward, what the future holds for FNC is not yet known.
Lankford said he hopes he can pass the torch onto someone who shares his passion.
“We are hoping to find somebody who is interested in carrying it forward,” he said. “We don’t know if that is going to happen or not.”
FNC is celebrating its 45-year anniversary with a month full of prizes.
During the month of July, all store visitors can put their names into a drawing for nearly 50 product gift bags.
Drawings will happen in August.