By GRANT ROWL
GTR Feature Writer
HEALTH FOCUSED: Mary Ann O’Dell, nutritionist and registered dietitian, left, and Sally Karlovitz, nutritionist, spend their days educating Akin’s customers and fellow employees on health and the store’s wide variety of vitamins and supplements. O’Dell’s father took over store operations in the early 1960s. Akin’s first opened its doors in Tulsa in 1935. The company currently has eight locations, in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. A ninth location is currently being planned.
In 1935, amid the Great Depression, Bernice Akin opened Akin’s Natural Foods Market, a local store dedicated to providing nutritional and diet supplements and the healthiest food available. Akin’s was the first of its kind in Tulsa and surrounding areas, and it has become known as one of the pioneer health food stores in the country.
Akin’s continues to be one of Tulsa’s top go-to places for the finest organic produce and packaged foods.
“My dad took over running Akin’s in the early 1960s,” says Mary Ann O’Dell, who still serves as a nutritionist and registered dietitian for the stores. “Our aim has never changed; we want to help our customers look and feel their best.”
“We’ve always stayed true to our roots – since 1935 – and have never compromised on the quality of what we sell,” says O’Dell.
Akin’s offers organic foods, herbal teas, vitamin supplements, pet food, nutrition books, organic bath and body products, and ecological household cleaners. In addition, customers will find special diet foods as well as dairy-free, gluten-free, low-sodium and nut-free items. And its product selection continues to grow, says O’Dell. “We add hundreds of items to our shelves every month – well over a thousand each year.”
Akin’s carries only 100 percent certified organic produce and has a wide selection of packaged organic foods.
“Organic food often simply tastes better,” says O’Dell. “Most processed foods are filled with preservatives and have been treated with pesticides. We don’t allow those additives.”
Although Akin’s certainly sells sweet treats, none of them contain artificial colors or flavors or high fructose corn syrup. Akin’s markets also do not carry bulk items.
“We feel like you should be the only one touching your food,” says O’Dell. “Bulk foods are often dirty and are inappropriate for those with food allergies or compromised immune systems. We sell only clean, fresh, properly labeled and packaged foods.”
Akin’s is also credited with having one of the country’s largest selections of vitamins, herbs, condition-specific natural formulas and homeopathic products. With that comes the need for staff that can answer questions about herbs and vitamins. Each Akin’s staff member engages in a mandatory nutrition training program and weekly education updates.
“We are continually educating our staff and bringing them up to date on the latest health research,” O’Dell says. “Natural products can sometimes be confusing, but Akin’s has a reputation for great staff and quality information. We strive to be the most helpful resource in every community we serve.”
Akin’s health focus also spreads beyond its stores into the community through various educational activities. Akin’s employees regularly speak about nutrition and health to local groups. The company also supports numerous charitable events through donations and contributions, as well as education. The company publishes The Healthy Edge™ monthly free magazine and other free literature about healthy living.
Akin’s has a total of eight locations in the U.S., with three in Tulsa at 51st and Memorial, 121st and Memorial, and 31st and Harvard. Other locations include Oklahoma City; Lincoln, Neb.; Topeka, Kan.; and Springfield, Mo. Company executives are currently planning a ninth store.
For the future, O’Dell expects to see Akin’s remain tied to its pioneer beginnings. “Akin’s has always introduced the latest truly natural products to the markets we serve,” she says.
“When you’ve decided to be healthy, deciding where to go is simple: Akin’s Natural Foods Markets.”