Saturday, May 23, 2009

The new Whole Foods

I was listening to NPR the other day on my way to work and heard a clip about the new Whole Foods store opening in Chicago just a few days ago. For some reason, I cannot find the exact clip online, but I know I heard about it.


This store is massive at 75,000 square feet with about 75,000 items. This store is apparently the third largest behind the one in London and Austin, TX. It boasts a variety of new features such as:

Chicago food venues--like mini restaurants with no wait time
Exclusive product line--products only available to Whole Foods, that store, and local--
International cookie club--a variety of cookies made in the store
Graffitti artist--mural of the skyline of Chicago, plus lots of other colorful decorations
Music stage--entertainment while people dine, shop, and buy
400 parking spaces--it is free with purchase
Automated express check-out--purpose is to reduce waiting time in lines

The store also has more trail mix stations, seven-themed eateries, more children's products, outdoor seating along the river, even a place to dock your kayak!

The idea is to have a 'community" feel, the feel of Chicago, where people can shop, dine, lounge with their computer, listen to music, etc.

I'm curious to anyone who is in Chicago, have you gone to the store? What were your thoughts?

In some ways, I love this, but another part of me is thinking about just how much selection there is. I already have a hard enough time in a small Whole Foods or other natural market store on deciding which items to buy. Would this make it even more overwhelming for someone like me? Would I still be too busy pouring and comparing the calorie counts of items, taking away from the "experience" of the store?

What are people's thoughts? Is this a good thing? And with the economy the way it is, does it affect whether you go to Whole Foods? Personally, it has for me, though I miss shopping there as frequently. I could if I made more money though. Good incentive. ;-)

As an aside note, I've also noticed a trend in general with some of the grocery store chains revamping and expanding. Kroger's comes to mind with their new "Kroger Marketplace" expansion with not only foods, but a larger sushi bar, larger coffee/espresso bar, furniture, kitchen items, etc.

Note--Other articles and photos:
Whole Foods opening...
New Whole Foods store
Photos of store


Lisa said...

My significant other is an economist who also loves to cook, so we sometimes delve into the economics of food when we shop. Before the economy bottomed out, Kroger instituted the "marketplace" changes and added things like prepared foods and luxury items in order to compete with Wal-Mart and Costco. Since stores like Whole Foods can't compete on prices, they have to offer things that you can't get at the box stores. Now that we're in the hole as a nation, I don't know how the Whole Foods castle in Chicago is going to work out.

I know what you mean about being overwhelmed by Whole Foods. I wind up making really ridiculous impulse buys, just because it's a treat for me to go to that store.

Kristina said...

I totally have a love-hate relationship with Whole Foods. YES, I admit that I do like the food selections and really like the prepared foods and their sandwiches and salad bar. Huge caveat - I hate the prices ("Whole paycheck" is more like it) and I also think that they are unethical, in addition to be snobby and yuppie. Okay, maybe not 'unethical', but they wouldn't let their providers supply Walmart, when Walmart decided to carry organic products. It's as if they are saying "Oh, only wealthy, privileged people should buy organic". AND I have an issue with the whole "organic" food is better notion, particularly when they are shipping it from Chile. Finally (and then I'll get off my soapbox), it's a very anti-labor/union organization.
But, yes, I do still go there. The Pasadena store that opened 2 years ago or so has singles "mixers" and other such *fun* (eye-roll) events!

Cammy said...

We don't have a Whole Foods in my state, but I have been to the flagship store in Austin, and it is AMAZING. Yes, the choices can be overwhelming and the prices are often out of my range, but the community style atmosphere makes it an event just to go there. There are tons of free samples, workshops for sustainable cooking/living, different dining venues, etc.

That is the good side. The bad side, like Kristina pointed out, is that it isn't nearly as eco-friendly as it wants us to think. The best option for the environment is to buy from local farmers markets, not to pay for organic stuff that was flown in from other parts of the country. I read somewhere that it takes 650 calories of oil to move 1 calorie of organic lettuce from California to Illinois.

So, I guess it's one of those places that is fun to visit for the novelty, but probably not the best choice as your main source of groceries.

Lissy said...

Whole Foods used to completely freak me out -- all that food. anxiety attack.

now it just freaks me out, because there are way too many people and way too many lines.

i get overwhelmed by big crowds and too many choices of anything. malls make me nauseous.

Tiptoe said...

Totally agree with all your thoughts.

Lisa, it's true that Whole Foods does have to offer different incentives than the other box stores. It'll be interesting to see how it fares.

Kristina, I can understand your love-hate relationship with Whole Foods. I think a lot of people think of it as "whole paycheck."

I agree with you that Whole Foods does have an air of snobbiness. Sometimes when I go there, I feel like if I do not have the recyclable-friendly bags, I do not fit there. That goes for all of the natural foods stores. I have those bags, but I always forge to carry them.

Cammy,I agree with you about the cost of organic. However, local, like at farmer's markets doesn't necessarily signify cheap. It's for a better cause though obviously.

I would still like to go to one of the big stores just to go.

Lissy, yes, it can be an overwhelming store. It's kind of funny, because my mom used to get overwhelmed by Wal-Mart and now goes there without any problem at all.

Just Eat It! said...

Whole Foods is one of the few food utopias that I can actually handle. It's organic sensory overload and I love it. That store would be my dream come true.

Tiptoe said...

JEI, I believe there is a rather large Whole Foods in Annapolis. It's not as big at this new one, but something like 50,000 sq. feet.

By the way, how do you compare Trader Joe's to Whole Foods, i.e., if you shop there. We don't have one here, but I remember really liking it when I was in the D.C. area.

Kristina said...

TJ's (as it's familiarly called in our household) is definitely MUCH smaller, there is less variety and it's far more economical. It doesn't try to compete with Whole Foods, but it has some great products. It's definitely a "must" for a camping or road trip or for a quick lunch. Finally, it is very generous with its employees and feels (to me) less "corporate".