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Whole Planet
June 29, 2007 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Whole Foods takes London. This South Kensington flagship store is the "quasi-messianic" company's biggest ever, comprising 80,000 square feet spread out over three floors offering 10,000 grocery items. In true American style, shoppers can choose from 1,000 different wines, 425 cheeses, 40 types of sausage, 55 in-store chefs, a pub called The Bramley, a sushi bar, a champagne and oyster bar and a DJ-booth to play music for late-night shoppers. The locals seem overwhelmed by it all.
posted by chuckdarwin (86 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
define organic, discuss
posted by elpapacito at 3:23 AM on June 29, 2007


I don't see why London, of all cities, should find Whole Foods particularly awesome -- they already have plenty of excellent, excellent food halls, and plenty of great organic food stores anyway. Whole foods may be a little redundant
posted by matteo at 3:23 AM on June 29, 2007


define organic

Carbon-based.

"Is this food organic?"

"Oh, absolutely. Apart from the salt, of course."
posted by Grangousier at 3:41 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Man, I hate Whole Foods. They're an overpriced grocery store for yuppies that want to pretend they're hippies. Must be the most pretentious store on earth.
posted by unreason at 3:42 AM on June 29, 2007


Must be the most pretentious store on earth.

Actually, that would be Dean & DeLuca.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:48 AM on June 29, 2007


It's right under my office building. Haven't been in myself, because it looks dreadful, and frankly it doesn't exactly look like there's queues stretching around the block. The few people I know who have ventured in say that its ridiculously overpriced. Good wine selection, though, apparently.
posted by flashboy at 4:00 AM on June 29, 2007


I have no experience with Whole Foods but as a Canadian expat I definately miss Loblaws.
posted by srboisvert at 4:05 AM on June 29, 2007


Huh. I really have to wonder about this guy talking about "massive portions" like they are only an American thing. He's British, right? He's had an English breakfast?

I'm not a lover of Whole Foods for two reasons.

First, they take out all the guilt associated with overconsumption. I quite frequently would see a half dozen or so SUVs happily parked just a short jaunt from the entrance (Disclaimer: my family once owned an SUV, but it was in 1991 long before it was faddish, it was actually one of the first, the Ford Explorer, it was purchased to replace a minivan, and we actually lived out in the country on a dirt road. Now my family drives cars; my dad a hybrid). Inside, loads of products galore, and it's pretty clear that most people are buying the organic for the taste, not the environmental aspects (which, you know, is totally their prerogative, but still...). Also, WF has never had an issue with selling conventionally grown produce, and almost none of it is local. But somehow, magically, all of this is okay because it's whole foods. Never mind that you're encouraging waste etc. It must be healthy for the planet!

The second result is more insidious. Other health food stores are now needing to compete with Whole Foods to stay alive, and many of them, in response to pressure and expectations, are becoming more Whole Foods-y. Lots more processed/deli foods, more ads and posters everywhere, lots of materials used to make displays etc. My old local store used to be awesome. Everything was written on old cardboard and reused loads of times. The emphasis seemed to be on helping people eat better, not making loads of cash, so prices were always kept low: if the price of carrots wholesale went down, so did the retail price. Now the store looks shiny and new, they're using mini-chalkboards for pricing the produce -- which I suppose is more sustainable than printing out posters or something, but not better than scrawling the prices lovingly on torn pieces of cardboard boxes.

Oh, and everyone who used to work their quit because of the new management, and everyone who works there now is pretty clearly just a 9 to 5er who's working there because they need a job, not because they love health food. So, um, I guess it's also a good thing that they phased in scanners, because none of the cashiers there knows what the items are anymore.

Oh IY, how you have fallen!!!

Of course, I suppose one might make the argument that it is not local health food stores themselves that are changing, but the overall health food industry. Where before organic and health food was a small, largely unprofitable niche industry that encouraged small-scale companies that were more ideals focused rather than profit-oriented, now that health food has mainstreamed corporations are jumping on, with predictable results ("Hey lawmakers! What if we allow chicken to be called organic even if it's raised with conventional corn?")

Here in Egypt, there's some organic produce but I feel less motivated to buy it because: 1) it's nearly always packaged in plastic and styrofoam, sorta outweighing the benefits, 2) I have no way of verifying that it really is organic, and 3) I've always been a stronger proponent of "buy local" so when I can I get my food from the local markets instead.

I think it's meaningless when people talk about things like organic salt, organic soap, etc but pretty meaningful when you talk about organic meat, fruit, vegetables, grains, etc. THe environmental effects of fertilizers, pesticides, and unsustainable farming are pretty profound and I wouldn't be surprised if they are the "next thing" that is addressed once we finally (if ever) fix the whole "OMG we is running out of oil and OMG global warming" thing.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:08 AM on June 29, 2007


We Californians often prefer to call it "Whole Paycheck."
I'm far more of a Trader Joe's girl, myself.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:11 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Trader Joe's ftw. They can come to England any time they like.

Where Whole Foods may have a good impact is on the other supermarkets; I can see their lines being influenced by chains like this - assuming it has some success - to be less .. well, less unrelentingly crap.
posted by bwerdmuller at 4:14 AM on June 29, 2007


"None of the executive team is allowed to earn more than 19 times what a sales assistant earns. "

Yes, a particular sales assistant named Lulu who's been dating the CEO.

It's fine that organics are the new trend if it eventually drives better eating for everybody, but they'd be doing more for less if they would just load a few trains of fresh produce in the countryside every evening and bring it into London for sale in the morning at open-air markets or even straight off the railroad car. People need cheap fruits and vegetables, not a thousand different bloody wines.
posted by pracowity at 4:16 AM on June 29, 2007


When they said an explosive device had been found in London, i didn't immediately think "Whole Foods." But of course! It all makes sense now!
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:18 AM on June 29, 2007


425 cheeses,

But no Velveeta. Great grocery store, my ass.
posted by jonmc at 4:20 AM on June 29, 2007


I really couldn't give a shit about "organic". That's just me, each to their own. But real markets are the way to go. I don't know enough about big cities like London, or equivalent sized cities in the US to know if real markets still exist, but I know at my local one I can go down every Sunday morning and buy fruit and vegetables for sometimes half the price they're sold at the supermarket, straight off trucks with no packaging, grown by little chinese ladies and big burly greek men, with the soil still clinging to the skin. I couldn't care less if it's "organic" or not.
posted by Jimbob at 4:23 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


DenOfSizer, I had this post written before I saw the thing about the bomb.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:30 AM on June 29, 2007


They opened a Trader Joe's in DC last year and it was one of the big events of the year for District residents. TJ's is like Whole Foods, only cheaper and with better food.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:39 AM on June 29, 2007


I have nothing bad to say about whole foods. Their dumpster kept me fed very well all through college. They had a great system where they had a different bins for regular garbage and food like fruits, vegetables and bread, and they had a wonderful policy of throwing away day old bread and perfectly good organic produce. We'd go down every night around 11 at night and see what kind of hual we could bring in. Usually it was just bananas and a couple of loafs of bread, but sometimes you'd get real treats like organic white asparagus. One time I found a whole case of organic ginger ale that they threw out because one bottle had broken. They put up a fence because other people started following us down there and there ended up being quite the crown, but we would just climb the fence. I bet I got at least a third of my calories in college from that dumpster.
posted by afu at 4:42 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I bet the staff at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods goes out and has hot dogs and cotton candy on their lunch break.
posted by jonmc at 4:42 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


All I can say after reading the FPP and the above comments is this: Try living somewhere that has no choices (aside from WalMart - ugh) available for anyone trying to eat healthy.

After a year of that, you'll be goddamn thankful to have a Whole Foods nearby, even if it is a relatively small one with only 100 varieties of cheese.

When living in civilized areas, my wife and I have for several years split our shopping between whatever organic store is nearby and one or two smaller higher-end grocery stores for the majority of our weekly shopping, and a larger chain store for purchasing bulk dry goods once a month or so. We do not spend our entire paycheck at Whole Foods, but they do carry some items we like that aren't present in other local stores. We're also pretty picky about reading the labels on things to see what is actually in it.

If you have a good reason not to like Whole Foods, fine, don't shop there. But please remember, as evil as Starbucks might be, it did expose many people to the idea that coffee could be more than just Folgers Crystals, resulting in a revived interest in coffee and a new abundance of decent independent coffee shops in the US. I keep hoping that Whole Foods will do something similar, by inspiring more people in the US to pay attention to what they put on their dinner plates. If organic doesn't have any commercial benefits, nobody would carry it. Whole Foods is one of the few chains large enough to have a positive impact on the market. Hell, even WalMart has started carrying some organic items, and that's saying something.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:01 AM on June 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't think they could afford other options, giovanni -- I'm sure the businesses that heavily overprice their stuff also take care to underpay their slaves
posted by matteo at 5:02 AM on June 29, 2007


Try living somewhere that has no choices (aside from WalMart - ugh) available for anyone trying to eat healthy

London does not exactly fit this profile.
posted by matteo at 5:03 AM on June 29, 2007


I don't think they could afford other options, giovanni -- I'm sure the businesses that heavily overprice their stuff also take care to underpay their slaves

Heh. Good point. But still, after looking at all those grubs-n-twigs for 8 hours, I'd be craving a burger and a twinkie.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 AM on June 29, 2007


I dunno, I like it. And the prices weren't much different from Sainsbury's. In fact some of their products were notably cheaper than in other health food outlets. Upstairs there is a huge area with different bars to sit at and eat different sorts of food everthing from wine and snacks to pizzas, salads, sandwiches and sushi. I tried the sushi bar and it was first rate, plus, the bill was a lot less than I have had to pay in other sushi restaurants. I see a kind of reverse snobbery in a lot of the posts. But my only objection to Whole Foods is that they bought out Fresh and Wild a very good health food and cafe outfit which had one of their locations only a short walk from where I live, and closed it down. Now it means taking a bus to get the kind of stuff I can't get elsewhere. But I have to admit I'm a foody so seeing twenty different varieties of tomatos on a display was something else, plus a great assortment of fish and all those cheeses. Oh, and all those SUVs were parked there well before Whole Foods. This is Kensington and Chelsea were they all live.
posted by donfactor at 5:16 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


What I don't quite get about Whole Foods is that the sort of people who want to eat lovely fancy organic foods are the sort of people who also want to support small specialist businesses, visit farmers' markets and so on. I suppose they rely on customer laziness and their image as a responsible company, but I can't really see my pretentious foodie friends in London switching away from their favourite cheese shops, butchers, fishmongers and the like.

Huh. I really have to wonder about this guy talking about "massive portions" like they are only an American thing. He's British, right? He's had an English breakfast?

A full English breakfast is a meal in the UK, not a portion, which it would be in the US. Maybe even a side order. The very first time I ate in the US, I decided to get a side order of bacon with my meal, so I could try out the ultra-crispy thin strip American style. A plate with twelve rashers of bacon on it duly arrived. The next lunchtime, I ordered a tuna salad. It had three full-size tuna steaks in it. To the British, this is enough to feed a small family, not a person. By day three, I took to asking waiters if I could have half-size servings of what I ordered, and quite often still couldn't clean my plate.
posted by jack_mo at 5:17 AM on June 29, 2007


caution live frogs - that's an interesting idea, Whole Foods and the like probably do work as a 'gateway drug' to good food, in a way that small suppliers don't.
posted by jack_mo at 5:20 AM on June 29, 2007


"...the store is infamous for the sheer variety."*

"...Americans like plates the size of their laps and portions bigger than a neocon’s hubris. Extravagance is their birthright."*

Damn right, you Limey. Hey. Ya', you. If yer not gonna eat that, lemme have it.
posted by ericb at 5:23 AM on June 29, 2007


Turnabout is fair play, I guess; the Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday about Tesco moving into the United States: Tesco Studies Hard for U.S. Debut.
posted by mediareport at 5:28 AM on June 29, 2007


... Good wine selection, though, apparently.

Oh to live in a land of supermarket wine sales. Our Whole Foods and Trader Joes are alcohol free which kills half the reason for going there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:32 AM on June 29, 2007


But if Trader Joes' came to England, what would they call Two Buck Chuck?
"Two Quid Charlie" just doesn't have the same ring.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:35 AM on June 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


octothorpe, I was actually really surprised when I went to a TJ's in Arizona and was told they had no wine. Seriously, it's just SO wrong. But their food is still kickass.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:37 AM on June 29, 2007


I don't think they could afford other options, giovanni -- I'm sure the businesses that heavily overprice their stuff also take care to underpay their slaves

Their average wage in 2006 was $15.38/hour. 2006 was also the first year they increased their salary cap, using a multiple of 19 (instead of 14) times the average annual wage for executive salaries and bonus, which was $607,800 for the CEO. The CEO also received options awards and other non-equity incentives, bringing his total "salary" for 2006 to $1,346,976. I think the CEO is going to have a big payday this year because he has 16,000 options that are exercisable in 2007 that were purchased for around $10 each (I don't know how many years ago they were first received) and their current share price is in the $60s. So, it doesn't seem they underpay their staff, at least compared to other supermarkets, but the salary cap thing is mostly nonsense, as the other elements of his compensation package easily make up for any cap on salary and bonus derived from the average worker's wage. See their proxy for more information.
posted by Falconetti at 5:47 AM on June 29, 2007


AA Gill needs to serve up his outrage in smaller portions.
posted by Optamystic at 5:48 AM on June 29, 2007


But if Trader Joes' came to England, what would they call Two Buck Chuck? "Two Quid Charlie" just doesn't have the same ring.

One bob Shaw?

In true American style...

American grocery stores are amateur hour compared to what the same companies have built in China. Behold the glorious gluttony of a six story Wal-Mart in the land of Maoism. A Carrefour the size of a shopping mall truly redefines "Serve the People."
posted by Pollomacho at 5:51 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm not a lover of Whole Foods... they take out all the guilt associated with overconsumption. Exactly.

Though I do love my Trader Joe's (and I don't even drink...).
posted by MarshallPoe at 5:53 AM on June 29, 2007


mediareport is correct. Tesco may do very well in the states; they certainly are an unstoppable force here. Their profits are massive.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:55 AM on June 29, 2007


Living in Brighton I get to keep buying my stuff from a couple of small food co-ops and the guys who drive their van over the South Downs with all their veg that's just been harvested.

Choice might be a wonderful but it's buying unseasonally and too globally is not a good thing.

Then again, not having kids, it doesn't really matter to me if the Earth I leave behind is becoming a wasted husk.

[/green nihilist]
posted by i_cola at 5:56 AM on June 29, 2007


Food in Whole Foods isn't automatically good for you, and the markups are very high. But if you want organic food, everything there is clearly labeled. It's not a good spot for staples, but it's an excellent source for bulk food, organic, and MSG-free prefab stuff, if you look carefully. Lots of food in Whole Foods still has MSG ("natural flavors" is the most common way to hide it), but the percentage is lower than in most places.

The things I really like locally are the Mom's Apple Pies in the freezer, the yogurt, and the bulk food bins. They used to have bulk maple syrup, but they stopped carrying that, much to my regret.
posted by Malor at 5:58 AM on June 29, 2007


Apparently Whole Foods is a virulently anti-union business.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 AM on June 29, 2007


Apparently Whole Foods is a virulently anti-union business.

Really, I guess I'll have to shop there more often then.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:15 AM on June 29, 2007


I think it's meaningless when people talk about things like organic salt, organic soap, etc

it can be meaningful when talking about soap.
posted by snofoam at 6:16 AM on June 29, 2007


Apparently Whole Foods is a virulently anti-union business.

Are you even a little surprised?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:31 AM on June 29, 2007


Apparently Whole Foods is a virulently anti-union business.

Yeah, John Mackey (founder, CEO) is a nut, and an anti-union nut. I used to work at WF, and he came to one of our all-store meetings once and howled about the evilness of unions - one of the stores in...Minnesota, maybe, somewhere in the upper Midwest anyway, was in the process of unionizing and so there had been a lot of talk about it at my store. A lot of team members (as U.S. WF workers are called) found his speech incredibly offensive.

That said, I found it a good place to work (apart from the customers!) my co-workers were interesting and extremely knowledgeable about food and wine. I worked in Specialty (cheese & wine), and I learned an amazing amount about both. Our team parties had the best food, as we all competed with each other to make the most delicious thing. The pay was decent, and since our store had a policy of making soon-to-be-out-of-date goods available to staff at absurd prices (pie for a quarter! nice hunk o' English cheddar for 50 cents! loaf of bread for a dime!), I ate and shopped well there.

And with London being the home of Harrod's, I'm having a hard time understanding all the "WF is the home of pretentious consumption!" stuff.
posted by rtha at 6:33 AM on June 29, 2007


Actually, that would be Dean & DeLuca.

Not Marks & Sparks?

A Carrefour the size of a shopping mall truly redefines 'Serve the People.'

It's a cookbook!
posted by kirkaracha at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2007


Actually, that would be Dean & DeLuca.

Bristol Farms is also up there.

Trader Joe's being the clear winner, I actually don't mind Whole Foods. They have a nice selection of hot babe shoppers.

As for the union thing, I didn't know Whole Foods was anti-union. Employees for their mainstream competition - like Ralph's - are on the verge of strike again; tension is in the air, as it was a few short years ago.
posted by phaedon at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2007


And with London being the home of Harrod's, I'm having a hard time understanding all the "WF is the home of pretentious consumption!" stuff.

There are many things you can call Harrods - tacky, chintzy, unpleasant, shite - but pretentious would be pretty far down the list. It's on the list, sure, but there's plenty of insults you'd chuck their way before you'd bother with pretentious.
posted by flashboy at 6:43 AM on June 29, 2007


I'm sure in London there are a multitude of choices. Here in the outskirts of Birmingham shopping, at least the shopping I can do on foot on at the local high street, is a small step up from hunter/gatherer. It's hit or miss whether you can find exotic things like spinach. Whole Foods would be the dawn of a new age. The biggest adjustment for me moving to the UK was food. I had to go from getting what I wanted to wanting what I was getting.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 AM on June 29, 2007


Whole Foods Previously. I happen to like Whole Foods. But I can understand the backlash here. Nobody likes it when their values are commodified and taken mainstream. But I like it when I can walk into a store and buy a beer or a glass of wine at the door, wander around nibbling on free samples, and pick up some decent produce for my meal that night. Guess I'll have to give back by Golden Birkenstock award.
posted by Otis at 6:45 AM on June 29, 2007


"my" Golden Birkenstock award. I have a cold.
posted by Otis at 6:46 AM on June 29, 2007


But if Trader Joes' came to England, what would they call Two Buck Chuck?
Perhaps just "Two Bob" will do.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:53 AM on June 29, 2007


I don't like Whole Paycheck all that much, because of the Whole Paycheck part of things. They're great for specialty things and have a better than average meat counter, but organic veggies in Seattle are everywhere, and everything else is just ridiculously marked up.

TJ's I also don't like, because of their limited selection and pretentiousness.

I also hate them both because they ran Larry's out of business. The Larry's around the corner is now an Asian market, which has insanely good prices, but I miss Larry's produce selection (much better quality than Safeway) and their cheese aisle.
posted by dw at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2007


I didn't know Whole Foods was anti-union

It's pretty much defined them in some circles on the left for years - well, that, and the accusation that for years their wages were lower than most other grocery store chains. The money quote is this: "The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover."

one of the stores in...Minnesota, maybe

It was Madison, Wisconsin. I've had a lot of friends work at Whole Foods over the years, and they all say pretty much the same thing: it's an ok place to work, but they "WE'RE ALL TEAMMATES HELPING EACH OTHER GET A LEG UP!! THAT'S WHY WE DON'T NEED UNIONS!" bullshit gets old real quick.
posted by mediareport at 7:00 AM on June 29, 2007


I don't see why London, of all cities, should find Whole Foods particularly awesome -- they already have plenty of excellent, excellent food halls, and plenty of great organic food stores anyway. Whole foods may be a little redundant

That was my reaction when I first heard that WF was moving into NYC. But, they are actually doing pretty well and expanding. Personally, I don't favor it. It's expensive, and fairly ordinary.

After two bouts of food poisoning from items I bought at Trader Joe's, I don't care how great it is, I'm never shopping there again.
posted by psmealey at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2007


"Altogether, the experience here is of eating in a railway concourse in the company of bored, neurotic, overweight people who’ve just had babies they don’t like."

This is the best condemnation of any restaurant/grocery store I've ever heard.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:07 AM on June 29, 2007


'define organic, discuss
posted by elpapacito'

No discussion necessary. It's got a legal definition where this shop is.
posted by edd at 7:20 AM on June 29, 2007


First, they take out all the guilt associated with overconsumption. I quite frequently would see a half dozen or so SUVs happily parked just a short jaunt from the entrance...

Funny. The one we go to every once in a while in St. Louis is where I see the highest concentration of hybrids. Trader Joes' is where the SUVs are, though I expect that has as much to do with the neighborhood as anything else.

TJ's definitely has better prices, though I've gotten quite a few not-so-great items there. I trust the Shop-n-Save more for organic milk than I do Joe. Their Thai shrimp gyoza though? Awww yeah.
posted by Foosnark at 7:29 AM on June 29, 2007


TJ's definitely has better prices, though I've gotten quite a few not-so-great items there. I trust the Shop-n-Save more for organic milk than I do Joe. Their Thai shrimp gyoza though? Awww yeah.

TJ's in DC is give-and-take as far as quality and availability. They sell milk almost a dollar cheaper a gallon than supermarkets, but I can almost never buy fruit there; it's either half-bruised or has about fifteen minutes of shelf life left. I also go to a regular supermarket for most non-food items. I can deal with all-natural shampoo, but the only toothpaste they sell is Tom's of Maine, which is probably the most accurate thing South Park ever said: the stuff that tastes like ass and doesn't fight cavities.

The other issue with TJ's is that while all their food is cheap, there's never going to be a "sale." By that I mean they're never going to have a special one week where hamburger is $1.99 a pound, or cornflakes 2/$4.00 with coupon, etc. I'm amazed that I go there every two weeks and my bill almost always stay within a $10 range.

Best deal at TJ's? Six bucks for 2.5 pounds off all-white meat pre-cut chicken breast. Seven if you want it pre-cooked and breaded. Hells yes.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:46 AM on June 29, 2007


Also, WF has never had an issue with selling conventionally grown produce, and almost none of it is local.

My local WF clearly labels every bit of produce, right on the sign above the bin, with its US state or country of origin. Came in very handy when we had our 100-mile thanksgiving and wanted some things we couldn't find at the farmer's market (who knew that hydroponics were so big in Rhode Island??).

Other health food stores are now needing to compete with Whole Foods to stay alive, and many of them, in response to pressure and expectations, are becoming more Whole Foods-y.

Our local organic co-op, which has been there since the 60s, trucks in all its organics from across the country, had a severe roach problem, and regularly sold us bulk goods full of flour moth larvae before the WF opened up around the corner.

Said co-op has survived by differentiating itself, not mimicking WF. It stocks a much larger selection of snake oil "all-natural supplements", enlarged its bulk section and finally fixed its pest problem. Now we shop at both -- WF for the gourmet stuff, the co-op for our bulk granola, flour, beans, etc, and either farmer's markets or a nearby "regular" supermarket that stocks mostly local produce.
posted by xthlc at 7:54 AM on June 29, 2007


The locals seem overwhelmed by it all. ??

I'd say AA Gill seems rather more underwhelmed, if that's a word.

E.g:“A penance in the mouth and a punishment for the colon.”
posted by Flashman at 8:00 AM on June 29, 2007


Hmm, no mention of Wild Oats yet? Yeah, Whole Foods is trying to buy out Wild Oats, but the FTC is trying to block it. I hope the FTC is successful, just because I like Wild Oats better than Whole Foods. We've got a WO and a WF within a half-mile of each other, and I definitely like WO better. The WF always seems kinda dark inside. Whether it's poor lighting, or just dark coloration of the floors/walls/etc., I don't know, but I prefer my grocery stores to be well lit. Also, WO has a distinctly better selection of bulk foods than WF. WO has actual staples, such as flour, pasta, beans, grains, etc. in their bulk bins, while WF's bulk foods seem to be limited to coffee, snacks, and candy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2007


Then again, not having kids, it doesn't really matter to me if the Earth I leave behind is becoming a wasted husk.

[/green nihilist]


I'll be borrowing that.

If you want me to help save the earth, get your rugrats to pull up their pants and take the tags off their hats. Oh and kids...lawn, you know the drill.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:20 AM on June 29, 2007


I work a few hours a week for a really wonderful food Co-op that has a huge regional base, and is a significant hub of our smallish town. We are very lucky to have it, and it will preclude a TJ's or WF moving in in the foreseeable future.

I don't like SUVs, or chain stores or McMansions, or (fill in your favorite signifiers). That said, I reject the notion that in order to buy or desire less-shitty food you need to lead a Pure Life, rejecting SUVs, hotdogs, cotton candy, and the rest. It's not a zero-sum game. If the culturally incorrect want to mix some locally grown, less-shitty food into their fare, or even some really tasty imported French cheese, who the fuck cares?

The few people I know who do lead the Pure Life are not at all fun to be around, often due to humorlessness. YMMV.
posted by everichon at 8:25 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


...their wages were lower than most other grocery store chains.

Well, yeah, since most other grocery store chains are unionized. WF has managed to keep unions out with a combination of rah-rah-we're-a-team and paying wages that are generally better than other (non-unionized) retail places. When I worked there, we were lucky to have decent upper management and our department manager in particular was very good; she was willing to work with people in scheduling shifts around people's lives: some of us were still in school, some of us were in bands, etc. If management keeps people happy (enough), then it's hard for unions to gain a foothold, even if things would be better with union representation.

They were also one of the first, if not the first, to ban the sale of items containing transfats, which does make shopping for packaged items easier and marginally less guilt-inducing.

I now shop there pretty much exclusively for cheese, beer/wine, fish/meat, and some bulk stuff - the store I shop at has flour and sugar and whatnot in the bulk sections, though not all locations have space for them. For everything else, it's TJ's.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on June 29, 2007


People need cheap fruits and vegetables, not a thousand different bloody wines.

Let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that people who are in a position to pay Whole Foods prices are grownups.

In liberal societies, grownups decide for themselves what they will do with their time and money. If they want to spend it on something you find frivolous or self-indulgent, that's their perogative.

I don't know London at all so I can't comment on whether this adds to or detracts from their retail landscape.

Personally, I am not a Whole Foods fan, not because I have a knee-jerk hatred of chains, but because their food bites the big hairy fat one. And it costs too much. Last month, I spent $4 on a pack of glorified hotdogs, ten bucks on a six pack of the worst IPA I've ever drunk and 2.39 a pack for whole wheat pasta that turned into a combination of grit and mush when cooked.

WF is better than nothing but if you live among people with any degree of culinary sophistication, serviced by real butchers, fishmongers, etc., you can do much better.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:12 AM on June 29, 2007


Whole Foods irritates me to no end. Health food marked through narcissism and guilt removal.

I am biased though: One of my old roommates would shop there for bags full of exotic fruit, flown from halfway around the world using god knows how much kerosene, then forget about them and let the leftovers rot in the fridge.

I wonder how much carbon was generated getting 1,000 wines and 450 cheeses to London.
posted by anthill at 9:31 AM on June 29, 2007


I'll have to dissent on Trader Joes: a horrible, Soviet-like meat and vegetable selection, and any loaf of TJ's bread you buy goes moldy within 24-48 hours of being scanned at the checkout counter. I really used to like them, too, which is what makes their decline so disappointing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 AM on June 29, 2007


Seconding Wild Oats. Significantly better selections and prices than WF.
posted by psmealey at 9:53 AM on June 29, 2007


Wild Oats and Alfalfas were the original and they hang on by a string, I don't think Alfalfas is holding on anymore.

For me, I'd be happy to get a grocery with a pub in it. That doesn't happen here in Colorado because they don't allow liquour licences at markets, not P.C. or something. I don't think we'll ever get a Trader Joe's for that reason b/c half their profit is from the spirits, darn.
posted by Viomeda at 10:00 AM on June 29, 2007


Also, I do need wine in addition to my fruits and vegetables. And, by several charitable accounts, I fall within the set labelled "People".
posted by everichon at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2007


I'd be happy to get a grocery with a pub in it

I have never seen such a thing, but I would very much like to.
posted by everichon at 10:03 AM on June 29, 2007


...if Trader Joes' came to England, what would they call Two Buck Chuck?

Two-Sterl Swirl, of course. Or Two-Shill Swill, if you count sample cups.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:20 AM on June 29, 2007


"Alternative" Media Quietly Sells Out to Whole Foods
posted by kalimotxero at 10:22 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Boulder where organic foods are God and the only way of life. There can't be enough natural suppliers, Whole Foods included. Even all the generic groceries like Safeway and King Soopers have an organic aisle for the cheep half-assed hippies, life myself. Whole Foods is definitely the monopoly though; what I like it for are those sample cups I take around the store and sample over and over till I'm quite full, thanks Whole Foods.
posted by Viomeda at 11:09 AM on June 29, 2007


Aww, I love Whole Foods. And not just because some really close friends work at headquarters.

Maybe because I still see it as an Austin store, made good, but they have an awesome selection of cheese, breads, their butcher counter is great, and they are not designed in the asinine way that Central Market is.

I went to Whole Foods (their flagship store in Austin rules) and got, for my anniversary dinner, ingredients for rack of lamb, homemade chocolate souffle (made with Valrhona), mango and tilapia ceviche, along with three wine pairings, for less than it would have cost at a restaurant.

Plus, their habanero-stuffed olives are so good you will punch your mom.
posted by mckenney at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2007


Hmm, no mention of Wild Oats yet?

Tulsa has a Wild Oats, and it gets a fair amount of traffic. They're now the only national chain left in Tulsa (or, I think, the entire state of Oklahoma) not named Wal-Mart. Albertsons pulled out of the market last week.

Here in Seattle, Wild Oats is just too far away, and there really wasn't a "chain" to buy, other than the PCC, which as a co-op would have been a nightmare to buy.

I hope the FTC is successful, just because I like Wild Oats better than Whole Foods.

They're about even to me. Whole Paycheck is trying to be more yuppie, Wild Oats is trying to be more crunchy. Both have surprising similarities, e.g. Jamba Juice outlets. Both have serious drawbacks. The Wild Oats in Tulsa is an odd space that's less well-lit than the Whole Paychecks here in Seattle. OTOH, Wild Oats carries things Wal-Mart and Albertsons in Tulsa never carried, like fresh herbs.

Wild Oats and Alfalfas were the original and they hang on by a string, I don't think Alfalfas is holding on anymore.

Wild Oats and Alfalfa's merged a few years ago. (Can't be bothered to find a link.) Alfalfa's big mistake was trying to expand to places like Seattle, where the makret was already saturated with PCC and Larry's with Whole Foods right behind them. They never stood a chance.

I miss the Alfalfa's in Boulder. It was the first time I'd ever been in a place like that where it wasn't all about the wheatgerm and cod liver oil.
posted by dw at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2007


I'm old enough to remember when Whole Foods was the grubby hippy store everyone wishes it was. I have to admit, I still don't mind shopping there, in spite of their monopolistic practices (aren't they buying Wild Oats?). That said, the flagship store in Austin is an affront to God. Does the world really need a display of apples that's the size of a waterfall? A walk-in beer cooler? A giant chocolate fountain? I feel fat and useless just walking around there.
posted by Gilbert at 11:47 AM on June 29, 2007


Does the world really need a...walk-in beer cooler?

Yes, yes it does.
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on June 29, 2007


Regardless of what anyone says, I would love to have a Whole Foods up here in the NW. As well as Tesco, Sainsburys, etc do profits-wise, they DOMINATE the grocery market countrywide. So when I grocery shop, I have the choice of Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda or Morrisons. Or M & S if I want a healthy ready meal. The low prices are great, but think I'd rather have the choice. I would love to have a bunch of different shops, co-ops etc to choose from. so bring me the Whole Foods', the Fresh & Wilds, the Waitroses, the little independent shops and whatever else you want.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:12 PM on June 29, 2007


One more opinion about WF here. (Log in from bugmenot.)
BTW, I am a WFM 'team member'.
posted by namret at 12:24 PM on June 29, 2007


I would love to have Whole Foods up here in the NW

i don't know where you are in the North West, but you can try SUMA for your bulk needs, you might need to find your local co-op to order through. You can also order direct from Lembas, in Sheffield, who also are more appropriate for smaller orders.

Vegeboxes for your fresh stuff. Not necessarily comprehensive, but should give you some idea of the options in your area.
posted by asok at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2007


Thanks asok, those sites are brilliant and I'll definitely start using them for a few things. I tried to sign up for Cain & Abel awhile back but they don't deliver to my area (!). So now I buy all my fruit/veg at the market. It isn't organic, which is not ideal but it is local, which I like. Ever since I read about apples (and other fruit and veg) at the local supermarket being up to a year old, It has totally put me OFF of supermarket fruit.

I do order some food stuff online already but I love to go grocery shopping and I just like the experience of picking up things off the shelf, or buying fresh-made, deli items and whatnot.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2007


Ever since I read about apples (and other fruit and veg) at the local supermarket being up to a year old, It has totally put me OFF of supermarket fruit.

Actually, apples keep quite a while under the right conditions (cold, low oxygen environment). Just because it's a year old doesn't mean it's bad.

It's the shipping part I'd worry about, even though I'm in apple country where the farmers depend on exports (and migrant workers) to stay in business.
posted by dw at 3:22 PM on June 29, 2007


Trader Joes' is where the SUVs are

Ah. Our town doesn't have a Trader Joes. That must be the reason.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:04 PM on June 29, 2007


For those of you who're wondering how WF fits in London and the UK. Well, for starters this first one is in South Kensington. Home of Harrods (which opened it's own separate food shop not that long ago, across the road from the main department store). I don't know the area that well, but it is surrounded by high-end shops of all sorts, including food. They are definitely targeting a particular market.

Most areas of London have a huge variety of choices for food shopping, from little local-run corner shops to huge identikit supermarkets. There's markets everywhere, selling cheap everything ('apples, poundabowl'). There's also quite a few farmers markets. Most areas also have at least one independent organic/health food shop. The major supermarkets all have organic lines, and they are just beginning to go down the local route too (the cynic in me says it's all spin - but that's just me), it's one of their growth areas. In a large Tescos or Sainsburys you could probably buy organic for all of your weekly shop.

In some ways, WF isn't really offering anything revolutionary to the British public. Because of things like Foot and Mouth and BSE, food miles and organic farming are issues that most people have thought about.

As several people have mentioned, outside of London and the big cities, the picture is bleaker; local shops are feeling the competition from big supermarkets, and the choice is a lot more limited. So if WF really are going nationwide, it might make things a bit interesting. But I suspect that they will just expand the Fresh and Wild model (in affluent, trendy areas).

I hadn't realised that WF had bought up Fresh and Wild as well, which has a few stores, mostly in London. I liked their cheese. Hopefully, I still will (yes, apparently I live in an affluent, trendy area).
posted by Helga-woo at 6:21 PM on June 29, 2007


Tulsa has a Wild Oats, and it gets a fair amount of traffic. They're now the only national chain left in Tulsa (or, I think, the entire state of Oklahoma) not named Wal-Mart.

Not true! You're, like, totally forgetting Target, he said with delicate sarcasm.

Anyway, Tulsa has the one Wild Oats, OKC has a couple of little homebrew organic market-y things with all the variety of your local Wal-Mart's speedcore section, and I still get a lump in my throat when I catch sight of the Lamar Ave. Whole Foods in Austin - even though I have to limit my purchases to things that'll survive a five-hour car trip. You coasties, I dunno.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:33 PM on June 29, 2007


Must be the most pretentious store on earth.

Try an Apple store.
posted by juiceCake at 8:03 PM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't see why London, of all cities, should find Whole Foods particularly awesome -- they already have plenty of excellent, excellent food halls, and plenty of great organic food stores anyway. Whole foods may be a little redundant

That was my reaction when I first heard that WF was moving into NYC.


But NY never really had clean, well kept, well stocked bulk health food - there were large gourmet stores, like Dean & Deluca, and later Gourmet Garage, and there were little hole in the wall bins-filled-with-seeds health food stores, and there were regular supermarkets. Whole Foods tried to combine all three of those, and basically redo the supermarket for the modern new yorker. I have to say, though I find the place irritating in certain ways, I'm certainly happy to see what's been accomplished in ideas about mass production / consumption. I was just in Whole Foods this evening to pick up some things, and it was so much like a supermarket from when I was a kid, except with food I would actually want to buy.

London, though, has much better food in their ordinary supermarkets. I'm always impressed by the quality of what they sell just in a standard grocery. So Whole Foods will probably fit right in but i don't know if it will change things that dramatically.
posted by mdn at 10:11 PM on June 30, 2007


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