As people embrace a healthy lifestyle for the New Year, the new owners of an independent health food shop tell us about the daunting prospect of taking over a shop founded 42 years ago. Laura Hanton reports.

IT'S becoming increasingly tough for independent traders to survive on the high street, let alone thrive.

But a popular independent shop in Dorchester is bucking the trend.

Kevin Knowles and Ian Bell, from London, have taken over Down to Earth on Trinity Street, a mainstay in the town since 1978, and a business they describe as 'a really key part of Dorchester'.

Down to Earth has had several owners over the years and used to be in Prince's Street.

Mr Knowles and Mr Bell say they are ready to 'embrace the challenge' of taking on a shop.

Mr Knowles, 48, said: "We saw Down to Earth was for sale, and knew it had great potential.

"It's a really key part of Dorchester and it needed a new guardian, so we've taken the baton and are moving it forward."

The pair opened for the first time on the last Saturday before Christmas, which was, in their words, 'baptism by fire.' Above anything, they simply want to encourage customers to get curious about the food and drink they consume.

The store sells whole foods, free from products, organic products and embraces the mantra of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, 'Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.'

"We have more than 200 ingredients in the shop that are sold loose," Mr Knowles says. "You can buy a gram, an ounce, a scoop, and it'll cost you pennies. We want people to embrace change and be experimental. In fact, you don't even have to buy anything; just come in and ask us questions."

Mr Bell, 50, adds: "We aren't a vegan shop, but we want to show people how easy it is to follow a plant-based diet. We're promoting it, rather than pushing it. We're saying that if you want to change up your lifestyle, then we're here to help you find your way."

Both men have an extensive background in the wellness industry and bring their specialised knowledge and experience to the new endeavour. Ian has spent his career designing high-end spas across the world and has recently trained as a psychotherapist, while Kevin, who is originally from Poole, spent many years working in a health shop in the capital.

Although keen to retain the fundamentals of the shop which has seen it become a Dorchester institution, the pair also have some innovative ideas in mind for the future of Down to Earth.

"We're going to design a new website, and get much more active on social media," Ian says. "We want to share recipes and enable people to make orders online, so we always have what they want in stock. We're also open to feedback from customers about what kind of products they'd like us to sell."

Recognising the competition from online retailers, Ian and Kevin are eager to make Down to Earth 'not just a shop.'

"We don't just want it to be somewhere you buy food," Ian explains. "It needs to be more than that. We want to give advice, and information, and develop relationships with our customers to make the store a place they want to go."

Speaking of advice, the pair are keen emphasise the healing properties belonging to many of the natural ingredients they sell.

"We think of so many things as culinary spices, but they're actually medicinal too," Ian says. "Turmeric is one of the best anti-inflammatory substances out there, cloves work wonders for toothache, and slippery elm can help with most kinds of digestive problems. We forget how many products are out there with naturally healing properties."

The shop is also focused on being as environmentally-friendly as possible, with Kevin saying they are committed to being "as local as we can, as organic as we can, as zero-waste as we can." Customers bring along tubs and containers to fill with ingredients, and products such as honey, salt and flour are all sourced from within the county. Muesli is made in-house, using recipes inherited with the shop and which have stayed the same for decades.

Additionally, there is not a single piece of plastic in sight. "Dorset is a coastal county, and seeing first-hand the effect plastic is having on the oceans makes us all the more determined not to use it," Kevin says.

Ian adds: "A lot of people come in here because the shop stands for zero-plastic. We have a very loyal client base, and they're all like-minded. They care about themselves and they care about the planet, and we just want to get more people doing the same."

As for the belief that vegan diets can be expensive to follow, Kevin counters: "As a non-vegan, you can eat cheaply or you can eat expensively. It's the same for vegans: if you want to buy ingredients and cook for yourself, you can do it inexpensively, seasonally, and healthily. We just want people to see what's out there and give it a try."

It seems, then, that the future of Down to Earth is in very good hands. All they need now is the customers: "If you don't use us, we'll disappear," Kevin says. "It's either buy local, or bye bye local."

*Down to Earth is located at 19 Trinity Street, Dorchester. It is open from 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9.30am to 2pm on Saturday. For more information, visit or call 01305 268325.