Whole Heartland

potatoWhole Foods is winning in smaller markets by going where "consumers wouldn’t dream of spending $6 for a pound of humanely raised pork," reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (12/17/13). Specifically, Whole Foods is succeeding in places like Boise, Idaho, where "it turns out that more shoppers do want, say, soda pop with no artificial coloring and flavoring, and specialty meats." In part, this is because Boise is home to many "college students and migrants from the cities where Whole Foods raised the bar on the grocery business."

Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb also credits the rising popularity of farmers’ markets to greater interest in local food in unexpected places. "There is a whole revolution going on around food now that isn’t limited to the coast," he says. Boise represents a new model for Whole Foods, which plans to "expand to 1,000 stores from a little more than 300." The chain expects to open about one-third of those stores in ostensibly unlikely locales like Boise. Joe Dobrow, author of Natural Prophets, notes that this shouldn’t be a surprise, as the retailer actually began as a local concern.

"Remember that Whole Foods started as a suburban business, and it wasn’t until they acquired Bread and Circus and Fresh Fields that they learned how to operate in urban areas like Boston and Washington, DC," he says. Whole Foods also spends about a year getting to know a community before moving in. Its presence has meanwhile prompted rival chains, such as Albertsons, to fix up their stores and expand their organic product mix. Naturally, some Whole Foods customers find the store too expensive, while others are disappointed it doesn’t carry familiar brands like Coke and Tide.

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