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Whole Foods Market


Lesley C
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In a previous discussion of the Whole Foods chain in the New Jersey forum a few people found this link of interest: Click here for a nice Whole-foods provided road map of their progress in their climb to global domination.

And yet I'll still shop there.  My location (Edgewater, NJ) is one of the "good" ones--monsterously expensive except for sale items and the 365 store brand, but great bakery, deli, BBQ, produce, fish and prepared food counters.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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lesley c

one of the women attending my indian cooking class on sunday said she buys all her produce at whole foods, willingly paying more for it because it is "class a" or "a class"--i can't remember how she phrased it.  then she added that the produce at our large atlanta farmer's market if typically class b or c, so it doesn't keep as long--and she explained to me, the vegetable moron, that produce grading is based on, say, travel time, storing conditions, etc.  so at a place like whole foods you can pay more for better food.

being a skeptic, as well as a ding-dong, i am inclined to not believe her completely.  don't ask me why, but the concept of produce grading never occured to me, and i'm sure there are many out there who'd laugh heartily at my admission [mea culpa! mea culpa!].  perhpas whole foods does in fact stock only the very freshest produce.  perhaps it is worth more.  i have always assumed that anything in a grocery store, regardless of which one it is, is only as good as it looks.  i always think of the road-side fruit stand as the a-class produce purveyor.  sometimes the freshest organic stuff looks puny and gnarly, but has exceptional taste, etc.

so, just thought i'd add this bit about whole foods.

laugh if you want, people.  i'm here to LEARN, i said!

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There is, in fact, a USDA produce grading process, but it's optional.  I don't know much about it, really, but I'd bet that if Whole Foods were really shelling out for the top grade and their competitors weren't, they wouldn't be shy about telling you.

Actually, that USDA site is really interesting.  Did you know that the standards for kale haven't been updated since 1934?  U.S. No. 1 kale must be "well-trimmed, not stunted, free from decay and from damage caused by yellow or discolored leaves, seed stems, wilting, bud burn, freezing, dirt, disease, insects, or global thermonuclear war."  Okay, I made up that last part, because they didn't have that in 1934.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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  • 3 years later...

Didn't know which forum to place this photo, which is marginally about food because what is pictured below greeted me this afternoon upon entering the Whole Foods on 20th Street in Philadelphia:

gallery_7493_1206_441551.jpg

Contrary to their corporate policy, I suspect Whole Foods is adding an unnatural additive to this plant to create a 'Huge Bonsai'.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Philadelphia--the source of the post that revived this thread--became a part of Planet Whole Foods when the company acquired Fresh Fields in the late 1990s.

Even before the acquisition, Fresh Fields was aware that it had a reputation for being expensive--I remember one of their print ads announcing lower prices that ran with the headline, "We've learned that you want to eat our food, not invest in it."

Still--then and now--much of what Whole Foods carries is still investment-grade merchandise. My local store, at 929 South Street, is directly across the street from a conventional supermarket (a Super Fresh), and I suspect that the competition helps moderate prices on products both chains carry. WFM's prices for national-brand goods at the South Street store are not all that far out of line with what one pays across 10th Street. In addition, the presence of WFM across the street has led to a larger selection of natural and organic products at the Super Fresh; where both stores carry the same product, the Super Fresh is sometimes less expensive but more often no less costly than Whole Paycheck.

Locally, WFM does tend to stock a good deal of produce grown in the Mid-Atlantic region, with Pennsylvania and Maryland dominant in season, but surprisingly, you tend not to see Jersey tomatoes in any abundance in their stores. They also feature some products from local producers, including Genji sushi at the prepared foods counter and Betts' cheese spreads in the refrigerated foods-to-go case opposite the cash registers.*

*The 929 South Street store, I understand, is designed along the lines of modern European supermarkets as opposed to standard American design. I was told that the then-chairman of WFM had visited a supermarket in Europe on a trip, was impressed by the layout and decided to emulate it in this store.

The space is much longer than it is wide, as opposed to the nearly square layout of most US supermarkets. Your progression through the store begins, as usual, with the produce section, which is directly in front of you as you enter to the right side of the space. Off to the left of the produce is the frozen and fresh fish, with the meat counter and case next to that. The center of the store--a U-turn from the produce section and opposite the meat counter--is occupied by the bakery, salad/hot foods bars and cheese counter, with the juice bar to the cheese counter's left and the prepared foods kitchen/deli to its right. Once past the cheeses, you enter the general merchandise aisles, with frozen foods on the right and the dairy case at the rear. Groceries are in the first bank of aisles; cleaning products, vitamins, supplements and herbal products are in the second. Finally, the snack foods and ready-to-go refrigerated case are right across from the cash registers for the prime impulse buys or customers in a hurry. It is a rather pleasant shopping experience overall.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I feel like Whole Foods is the anti-Walmart, in that it's the store I hate to love. I just love it, love it, love it... and feel like it's catering precisely to the little foodie id that runs a direct neural link to my debit card. Makes me feel so damned annoyed to know I'm so easy to read -- well, at least until I find some really perfect shiitake mushrooms to go with that strip steak on sale for $9.99....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I feel like Whole Foods is the anti-Walmart, in that it's the store I hate to love. I just love it, love it, love it... and feel like it's catering precisely to the little foodie id that runs a direct neural link to my debit card. Makes me feel so damned annoyed to know I'm so easy to read -- well, at least until I find some really perfect shiitake mushrooms to go with that strip steak on sale for $9.99....

I love Central Market too. In regard to Whole Foods, someone summed it up when he said "when the looters broke into Whole Foods in New Orleans they said 'what is this crap?'"

Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

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At the moment I loathe Whole Foods Markets in my area--the same area Malawry is from and that she commented on.  However, I've been to other Whole Foods stores around the country--and therein lies some of the rationale behind why I currently dislike my local stores.

Unfortunately, I live in the Mid-Atlantic region where Whole Foods has over 20 stores, after buying out Fresh Fields, that fall under a regional administrative umbrella yet each store is given the freedom to explore different directions with some autonomy.  That's why "team leaders" at different stores can create a different shopping experience just based on how much they care and how experienced they are.  

But, when Whole Foods moved into our market, they brought with them some very knowledgeable, dedicated teams from corporate, staffed the stores with knowledgeable and motivated people and made a big splash--immediately improving our market options exponentially and forcing our local supermarkets to adapt and to improve themselves....The DC store went downhill first--all the original people transitioned to other stores or left disillusioned, a disinterested new crop of sales and service people were hired and now they go through the motions yet have kept the high prices--much like many of the known chefs in our city.  

Within a period of three years, I moved from St. Louis to Boulder to Washington, D.C. In the late 90's St. Louis got its first "up-scale" supermarket, Wild Oats, which originated in Boulder, Colorado. We were thrilled! St. Louis is one of the few large cities I've known where farmer's markets were popular among all ethnic groups and classes, so the best conventional produce was actually cheaper there on the street next to the barbeque shack than it was in supermarkets. Okra was plentiful and to die for, but in a very traditional Southern/Midwestern city, despite Volpe and its Italian-American community, it took Wild Oats to bring us bunches of arugula, organic kale, rows of nut oils and the like. One of the things I looked forward to in my move to Boulder was living close to the flagship store.

In the middle of my year in Boulder, Whole Foods came to town and set up shop only ten minutes by mountain bike from my home. Competing in the most ruthless, smiling way in the birthplace of its rival, the company moved next door to Border's, not far from a nationally known, beloved hardware store where everyone went on weekends. The space was HUUGE, surrounded by mountains rising above the asphalt. Intense light that close to the sun linked natural splendor outdoors to the Natural Goodness within: mountains of golden beets and fields of green. Prices were slashed to accommodate the diets of all the serious runners who lived in town, so salmon was cheaper than it was in Seattle. Emigrants from California bought organic milk for their children, so Horizon products were cheaper there than they were at Wild Oats. The company clinched the deal by approaching the one really good, small bakery in town and convincing it to produce breads exclusively for Whole Foods. Lines for bread fresh out of the oven grew. I felt guilty for deserting Wild Oats, but....

Then I moved here. Everything Steve Klc writes about Fresh Fields and its transformation into Whole Foods deserves a vigorous nod and a sad yes. Recently things in the D.C. stores have gotten much, much worse. In part to vent, but also to invite explanations or feedback from others, I am breaking down problem areas into categories. The rubrics do not represent all the problems, just ones that I feel like mentioning now. While D.C. dwellers have a few other options including Balducci's (which I refuse to visit for reasons New Yorkers know best), I have to say that I still do the majority of my food shopping at Whole Foods from late October through May.

PRICE

Source of everyone's gripe. Folk in the U.S. still pay a lot less than Europeans do for food, so this is something I feel ambivalent about. We should pay farmers well and make sure small manufacturing companies survive. I am all for the profits long-time WF employees share. HOWEVER, come on!!! Chicken of the Sea now distributes the kind of Italian oil-packed tuna I am used to buying. 6 oz. cans cost $1.50 in independent grocery stores in Maine yet $2.99!!!! at Whole Foods. I don't understand why baking powder has to cost 20-40% more there than elsewhere.

DIVERSITY & QUALITY OF PRODUCTS

This may be the area that makes me crankiest and most militant. Before the age of Trajan when imperial cults and their monuments relegated merchants to a separate, peripheral building, the the central artery of forum was the place to go for anything and everything grown and produced throughout the Roman world (as long as it could survive the journey). The aisles of Whole Foods provided the closest contemporary parallel here in Washington, D.C., at least until Fresh Fields became Whole Foods.

Over the course of seven years, the store brand 365 has taken up more and more space on the shelves, always in the most prominent position. Fewer alternative brands are available, especially in the case of imported goods. As much as Italy is popular with Whole Foods, the company has even compromised the quality of its Italian products. I am thinking specifically of canned organic tomatoes. I used to follow the advice of Michele Urvater who noticed you get more for your money in the smaller sized cans. This was true of the one manufacturer Whole Foods favored; the plum tomatoes were packed in like tennis balls. Now Whole Foods owns the company. Thick tomato puree replaces the thin juice that originally filled the can. It also contributes a lot of the weight. Instead of eight tomatoes, you get three and a half.

I also find a certain amount of provincialism at play when it comes to produce. D.C. has lots of Asian and Middle-Eastern emporia in Maryland and Virginia. However, I still would appreciate something as unexotic, humble and delicious as a fresh water chestnut instead of the glossy, bright Buddha's fingers that come from Frieda's and are just for show.

Finally, I wonder just how food-savvy WF employees are, i.e., the ones who select what they sell. The man in charge of cheese at my store is awe-inspiring in the breadth of his knowledge. I trust his advice always. However, WF hires a lot of people who have little personal interest in cooking or eating and seems to value the chance to impose its own vision upon them.

TARGETING BUSY PROFESSIONAL SNACKERS VS. COOKS

There are other ways to frame this issue, but in the store I frequent most, the bulk section has changed dramatically. Several weeks ago I ran out of dried chickpeas and was amazed to find that they're no longer carried!!! You can just buy the cooked stuff in cans....or in vegan salads over in the prepared food section....or the store's humus. The number of grains and dried legumes has decreased. Fine-grained cracked wheat for baking bread? That disappeared years ago. I wrote a comment card decrying the situation, noting that shoppers really don't need a bin of strawberry yogurt coated pretzels next to a bin of peanut-butter coated pretzels and vanilla-yogurt coated ones. The friendly reply from Whole Foods promised to think about this, but regretted the current lack of space. I guess they didn't understand why I mentioned how many bins were taken up by flavored pretzels. As long as a more profitable item looks like Health Food.... The relationship between the counterculture, nutrition-conscious origins of the corporation and its current state is provocative too.

BUYING LOCAL

Whole Foods seems to be responding to criticism. The regional office is meeting with representatives of the farmer's market very soon. Signs are posted in unbleached, recycled-paper brown to proclaim the source of cremini mushrooms from a nearby farm. Yet it is sad to see red bell peppers from Holland at $5.99 a pound in late summer, rock hard peaches from California in July....

Basta. This is long, I am tired and still haven't finished the farro salad I made well over an hour ago. (The farro's from Dean & DeLuca, $4.50 a pound. WF never heard of farro.)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Everything Steve Klc writes about Fresh Fields and its transformation into Whole Foods deserves a vigorous nod and a sad yes.  Recently things in the D.C. stores have gotten much, much worse.  In part to vent, but also to invite explanations or feedback from others, I am breaking down problem areas into categories.  The rubrics do not represent all the problems, just ones that I feel like mentioning now.  While D.C. dwellers have a few other options including Balducci's (which I refuse to visit for reasons New Yorkers know best), I have to say that I still do the majority of my food shopping at Whole Foods from late October through May.

(extended bill of particulars counting the ways Whole Foods disappoints deleted)

I dunno, but mebbe if you could get someone to set up an honest-to-God public market along the lines of Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, or even the Italian Market, you'd be better off.

Wait. Isn't that what the Eastern Market is all about?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Everything Steve Klc writes about Fresh Fields and its transformation into Whole Foods deserves a vigorous nod and a sad yes.  Recently things in the D.C. stores have gotten much, much worse.  In part to vent, but also to invite explanations or feedback from others, I am breaking down problem areas into categories.  The rubrics do not represent all the problems, just ones that I feel like mentioning now.  While D.C. dwellers have a few other options including Balducci's (which I refuse to visit for reasons New Yorkers know best), I have to say that I still do the majority of my food shopping at Whole Foods from late October through May.

(extended bill of particulars counting the ways Whole Foods disappoints deleted)

I dunno, but mebbe if you could get someone to set up an honest-to-God public market along the lines of Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, or even the Italian Market, you'd be better off.

Wait. Isn't that what the Eastern Market is all about?

Or set up one like Berkeley Bowl, in Berkeley, CA.

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I have lived in this area only for the past seven years, but from what I understand Eastern Market is no longer of the quality that it used to be, although there are still some good vendors.

The FreshFarm Market was founded only nine years ago. As result, one of the greatest things about life in Washington, D.C. is its farmer's market, or markets, I should say since farmers have begun setting up stalls in various locations throughout the city four days a week. In part, the success of the farmer's markets makes the revitalization of the Eastern Market problematical, although I really do not know enough to offer more than this speculation.

Nonetheless, my exhaustive lament concerned Whole Foods alone, not the bounty of foods available in the area. Yesterday, I bought the epazote no longer carried at WF at a small independent store in Adams Morgan. Other chain supermarkets and natural foods stores stock the dried legumes that WF discontinued and grains (cornmeal, quiona...) no longer available in bulk. It seems that the store that amazed me in Boulder eight years ago was not superior to the one I currently frequent solely because it was out West and close to California. Here in the east, as WF expanded and bought out its competion (e.g. Bread and Circuses in MA), its quality has slipped, its prices have soared and its mission seems compromised.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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The best markets that I've been to in the US:

the Berkeley Bowl

Central Market (Houston)

Whole foods is far behind them!

You really must check out the Reading Terminal Market sometime.

WFM can't hold a candle to it either. And Iovine's organic produce is cheaper. (Iovine's is the biggest, busiest and best of the RTM's produce vendors.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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  • 6 months later...

I'm bumping this up to bitch profanely.

I've been working with the butchers at one of the WFs in my town (University Heights, if anyone cares), and they've been very happy to sell sausage casings for not too much and drag stuff out of the back that isn't in the case. Swell.

Today I went in to get a whole turkey breast and a pork butt for smoking (click), and talked with the butcher about their source for pork. I know that one source is Niman Ranch, and I believe the other is Pederson's of Colorado. I've been dying to get a Niman Ranch pork belly in order to cure some bacon with it.

Here's the thing. This WF gets Niman Ranch pork. They can special order things. Niman Ranch sells pork bellies. So why can't I buy a Niman Ranch pork belly from WF on special order?!? No way -- no explanation, mind you, but no way.

Can anyone explain this? It seems utterly absurd to me.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The local store near me(Bellingham, MA) explained to me that they have to order in bulk quantities, and if they think they cant sell it , wont do it to benefit one customer. I've also inquired about pork bellies, veal and beef cheeks, even lamb neck. i am at the conclusion that they are a big lie. The produce here NEVER changes, its the same stuff 365(hence the logo). I've requested favas and was told not possible, and then bought them at Stop&Shop. They are basically posers.

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I don't want to generalize here, because I've certainly not spoken with every employee of the fish and meat sections at the WF near my house but.... They have been completely unwilling to do special orders, and fairly unknowledgeable about anything I've tried to ask after. I bought fish there once; it was the same farm-raised Atlantic salmon available at my local megasupermarket, only $3 more/lb, and they didn't even know how to cut it properly. I will give them credit for having good beef, but I rarely shop there.

Also, shrinkwrapped cheese? What the hell. Seriously.

Jennie

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Also, shrinkwrapped cheese?  What the hell.  Seriously.

I've written exactly the same thing in my foodblog about the cheese -- but then I went to Fairway in NYC recently, and even Steve Jenkins is wrapping his cheese in plastic wrap.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Speaking of 'bitching profanely,' don't get me started on shrinkwrapped cheese. $10+/lb. for cheese and I have to cut off 1/4" on all sides because of the off taste from the film. Same thing for bulk chocolate. GRRRRR!

I'm not a violent person, but if I ever happened across the person that invent Borden Food Service Seal Wrap (with it's greasy rancid non stick coating) I would definitely kick their ass.

As far as the special order pork belly is concerned... Chris, having worked at Whole Foods, I can say that the butchers I worked with had a tendency to be incredibly nice guys/gals, but not the sharpest tools in the shed. Even if they did happen to know what was going on, they had surprisingly little decision making ability- most of their thinking was/is done for them on a regional level. This isn't just for meat either, but for all the departments.

I'd give the regional meat person a call:

North Atlantic

125 Cambridge Park Drive

Cambridge, MA 02140

617.492.5500

617.492.5510 fax

There's no guarantee that the regional person will know their stuff, but your chances will definitely improve.

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I live in Austin and used to sell fresh herbs that I grew in my garden to the very first WF: would walk in the front door, give the Produce guy my herbs and my invoice and get a monthly check.

WF is HUGE and hugely corporate now. Customer service is NOT what they are all about, is it? I work for Central Market in Austin, and our customers call the shots. You want pork belly? No problem - we'll have to special order it, but we'll get it for you. Ostrich? Rattlesnake? Eel? Whole suckling pig? Whatever.... if we can source it, we'll get it for you because return business is what keeps us going. And, we're a private company so we can do what we want.

WF doesn't have to care what you want. If you don't like it, that's tough - go shop elsewhere. Their mission has been lost in their growth. Don't get me wrong: I still go there once or twice a month because it's a fun store.

But they aren't particularly serious about food anymore.

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