Whole Foods - where do we even begin? In our ongoing review of regional and national grocery stores, Whole Foods is an obvious choice to review, and there is a lot to say about this juggernaut of healthy and gourmet groceries.
First, an anecdote. We went into a new Whole Foods in our area last week, and nearly keeled over from the sensory overload. There was a trattoria bar, with wine and hot foods to eat. There was a separate classroom for cooking classes and seminars on holistic health. There was a nut bar - fresh-ground peanut butter! There were all the usual bulk foods, loose local eggs for the picking, an olive bar, and what seemed like miles of undulating displays of fish, meats, and poultry.
We picked up our usual things and left, slightly dazed. This is the classic Whole Foods experience, and there are some things we like about it, and some things we don't...
First, the likes.
• Whole Foods has made the health food store sexy. It's taken that little crunchy granola shop and made into THE one-stop store for yuppies, hippies, and urbanites alike. This can only be a good thing, even though we love our early experiences with local co-ops and health food stores and will still patronize those instead if we can. At least we know there IS a place we can go for bulk whole grains, hormone-free meat, and organic produce.
• We like the vast selection at Whole Foods and their emphasis on Fair Trade and organic goods.
• We also like their hiring practices. We have many friends who made it through their early 20s working at Whole Foods on a good salary, with great working conditions and health benefits.
• We also like their 365 brand for good values in many basic organic and recycled goods.
Now, the dislikes.
• This is simply a personal preference, but sometimes the "Disneyland" effect of Whole Foods overwhelms us - too many choices! Too much shininess!
• Our main beef with Whole Foods is its lack of emphasis on local and seasonal produce. When we walk into our Whole Foods and see all this produce from California, honestly it's hard to feel great about buying organic. If we are in New York or Ohio we want to see what's actually in season. Whole Foods has a tremendous opportunity to educate people about eating the great and delicious foods that grow near to them, and while this will probably never happen, how great would it be to never see a strawberry in a Northern Whole Foods in February again?
Notice that we don't mention price at all. Their prices are high, yes, but we also believe that organic and well-raised meats and fish should command higher prices.
Here's some of our other coverage of Whole Foods:
• Whole Foods Takes Manhattan
• Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck?
• Whole Foods CEO Mackey Caught Sock-Puppeting
Now your turn! What is the Whole Foods like in your area? What do you think of Whole Foods, and what do you shop there for? Do you buy your whole shopping list there, or just a few items?