Monday, March 31, 2008

Whole Foods Bait and Switch

I spent a good deal of yesterday looking for items and ingredients all over town that I just couldn't find and it was frustrating. After several fruitless stops, I swung into Wild Oats to pick up some simple items which, of course, they didn't have. I appreciate that Wild Oats is a bastion of all natural, organic *stuff* but it irks me that I can't get a broader range of basics or gourmet tidbits there. I have accepted for a long time that Wild Oats is not a one-stop-shop, but it's especially frustrating when I can't even find the specialty items I'd expect them to have.

What really irks me is that their assimilation to becoming a very low level Whole Foods is almost complete and reports are there are no planned inventory changes to go along with the shiny new systems and signage. After a few years of operating the Wild Oats chain separately, Whole Foods as a corporation is, of course, folding the natural/organic chain into the rest of their business. But new grocery bags do not a Whole Foods make. Repeated inquiries to a variety of employees yield that they are not changing the inventory substantially at this particular store and will not be significantly expanding. So, the wide assortment of high end gourmet products, name brand basics, and huge natural/organic selection one can find at a Whole Foods market? Forget it. Next month, the Wild Oats sign will come down (reportedly) to be replaced by the Whole Foods moniker but it will still be the same crappy grocery store -- and decidedly *not* a Whole Foods. (Although, Wild Oats is living up to one part of the Whole Foods legacy -- the high prices and "Whole Paycheck" reputation.)

What about the *real* Whole Foods scheduled to open in Indianapolis later this year or early next? Don't hold your breath. As development deals change, scale back, and even fall through, it's safe to say the Whole Foods project on 86th street is in limbo. (Search on "Whole Foods" for the complete picture.)

For any of you who have ever patronized a Whole Foods on a regular basis, you'll understand my frustration. And sadly, I fear that too many people will see the sign and think "What's the big deal about a Whole Foods. Is this it?" Just know that while the sign may say "Whole Foods" soon at Wild Oats, it's a rotten bait and switch. We want our *real* Whole Foods.


Alicia said...

Amen. Hailing from Chicago, I can attest that this store is Whole Foods in name and price only. I'm counting the days until Fresh Market opens.

circlecitysweets said...

I agree about Whole Foods. I am in Chicago right now for a 6 month stint and I love to hit Whole Foods. I don't do all my shopping there, but you can find everything you can't find anywhere else. Even at school when we ask "Where can we find that?" the chefs almost always say, "Whole Foods." I also can't wait for Fresh Market to open!!

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Braingirl--and her Whole Foods Market post--is on Natural~Specialty Foods Memo.

Link below:


Anonymous said...

I guess it really depends upon what you are looking for. I have found a number of delicious items at Whole Foods, that didn't hit my pocketbook so hard. Granted I had to go to another store to pick up other items, but those are some unhealthy options that I wanted. It seems like they are trying to find a balance between what some people "see" Whole Foods as and what some Indiana consumers are looking for.

braingirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
braingirl said...

Let me try this again without the typos.

This isn't about what I want to see. The brand and name of Whole Foods means something. Based on Whole Foods markets that I've patronized in other cities, it sets an expectation. A Whole Foods market is a quantifiable product.

"Whole Foods Lite" (which is what Wild Oats is) is a Wild Oats with a Whole Foods sign -- which irks me as a customer because I want what that green/white sign is supposed to deliver.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I am tired of national corporations giving us "Hoosier" versions of their stores. Fewer high-end brands, lower heeled shoes (yes, really), no interesting produce, I could go on and often do. If these things can get to Chicago and Cincinnati, why can't they get here? And I refuse to believe "there's no market." I know there's a market, my family and friends (RL and invisible) are the market. But, alas for us and for the sales these corporations are losing, Indiana's rep as a backwater precedes it.

Erin said...

I went to Whole Foods in Portland and in Louisville and have been sorely disappointed by our so-called Whole Foods. What a joke. Even worse than Wild Oats if you ask me.

I second the comment re: being tired of getting Hoosier-fied versions of chains.

And I do think there is a market for these progressive concept groceries. The problem here has been too many of them clustering in certain areas, with none of them willing to really dedicate themselves for the long haul. They are dying before ever really getting a chance to take hold, or reacting to tight markets by making their stores suckier (a la Sunflower Market) instead of better - that's no way to win the competition for grocery dollars. Good Earth has been a model business through all this. I wish they could offer the square footage of one of these big chains.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Erin -- the new Whole Foods is worse than the old Wild Oats. I went there today with my granddaughter to eat a quick lunch. I have eaten lunch at Wild Oats many times with great satisfaction, but all that changed today. First, the deli no longer sells its salad sampler. I had to buy several items in the round take home containers and spread them out inconveniently on our (dirty) table. Speaking of tables, the number is reduced and the ones left are the tall ones, not suitable for small people. No brewed coffee available anymore, also no water or water cups (bottled is available). I guess they want to discourage people from eating in the store anymore. Too bad as this was a nice place to meet for very casual and quick coffee or lunch. It was noon, but only 2 check-outs were open and one was training, who also had to answer the phone and direct calls while I was standing in line. Slow. We have often visited a Whole Foods in St. Louis (Brentwood) and this is NOTHING like that. The shelves are now stocked with the WF brands - more expensive than the labels they replaced, and the WF stuff just looks generic in comparison.

If we can't have a real Whole Foods then I want the old Wild Oats back.