Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Focus on Local

By Jenny Brown, September 8, 2008  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Jenny Brown

It’s not news to anyone (except The New York Times, apparently) that local food has hit grocery stores in a big way, due to ever-increasing consumer demand. Whole Foods Market is no exception. In fact, we were out in front of the curve!  Although we’ve always had a strong commitment to local products, we made a more concerted effort in the past few years and have seen the amount of local product in our stores increase dramatically as a result. In the fall of 2006, we hired our very first Local Forager, a Team Member whose sole position is to source local product – in this case, in our North Atlantic region. Since then other regional foragers have been hired, numerous store Team Members have added local foraging to their job duties, and throughout the company we’ve seen our renewed focus on local purchasing impact the way we do business. All this while we continue to focus on our Quality Standards and our commitment to bringing our customers the highest quality food available. Here are some of the things we are doing:

  • increasing local product throughout our stores, and improving signage to help our customers find local products
  • putting more energy into promoting local products, including bringing local producers in for demonstrations, hosting “Local Days,” and featuring local producers on our website
  • hosting farmer’s markets at our stores in certain areas
  • holding company-wide workshops which allow Team Members to discuss the challenges local purchasing presents and to share best practices
  • bringing together local producers at vendor seminars, where we explain how Whole Foods Market works and give producers the chance to get their products in front of buyers
  • increasing communication internally to help our local vendors grow as they see fit
  • funding our Local Producer Loan Program, which provides low-interest loans to our local producers

Of course, I’m particularly proud of the last one, since I run the program! The recent New York Times article on local food even featured one of our loan recipients, Red Jacket Orchards. They have supplied our stores for about eight years now, and we are so pleased to have been able to help them purchase high tunnels, which shelter the delicate fruit they grow during inclement weather. So next time you are in one of our stores, check out the local offerings. And let us know if you have a favorite local product that we need to know about!

Category: Local




Anita says ...
Hi Jenny -- I love that Whole Foods is focusing on locavorism, but I do feel strongly that the brand's definition of 'local' is inherently flawed. Maybe in some parts of the country, 7 hours is as good a "local" radius as can be expected, but in the Bay Area or Southern California... it's frankly embarrassing. I'm inspired by all these pretty posters of local farmers hanging from the rafters in my city's WF stores. But I'm sad that rarely are their products on offer! Except at the very height of season, all we often get are "grown in California" products -- way too vague for a state that's 770 miles from top to bottom. I'm willing to pay a premium for produce (and protein, too) from within my local foodshed. I'd be thrilled to see Whole Foods make a stronger commitment to supporting truly local -- not regional, and especially not 'factory organic' -- producers. Thanks for all you're already doing! :)
09/08/2008 3:57:35 PM CDT
brownj says ...
Hi Anita! Each of our 11 regions has its own definition for what is considered “local.” Although Whole Foods Market has stores throughout the United States and Canada, unlike many companies, we recognize that each region is unique. What is considered local in Kansas is different from what is considered local in southern California. In the Bay Area, for example, they are currently using counties; in the Midwest, it’s generally states. However, although each region has its own definition, we are frequently asked for a national definition and have chosen 7 hours driving time as the maximum distance for products to be considered local. If you go into one of the stores in the Bay Area, you will clearly see that only items which would truly be considered “local” are labeled as such. Both our Northern California and Southern Pacific regions even have their own foragers to bring in more local products and promote the ones we already sell. As for the label “grown in California”: unlike most retailers, Whole Foods Market voluntarily tells customers where its produce comes from. You will see similar labels telling you when produce is from Chile, Mexico, or Florida, for example. We truly do have a commitment to local food production and do our best to work with local producers as much as possible. Please let us know about any local producers that you know who would like to work with us!
09/09/2008 12:05:34 PM CDT
Kevin Harron says ...
Hi Jenny. I would love to see more local in my Whole Foods (Toronto, Canada) I was there just last weekend, and disappointed by no local broccoli, no local onions, etc.; even though this is the height of the local harvest season. I know you (Whole Foods) have made a big push for local, and to your ever-lasting credit, you do a much better job than most of your 'big' competitors. But when compared with local farmers markets there is room for improvement. I can't think of a lot of vendors names for you; but I can tell you who shows up at my local farmer's market, hopefully they might be able to supply you (and you might want to be supplied by them!) Cookstown Greens: (awesome heirloom varieties of tomatoes, carrots, salad greens, and other neat stuff) http://www.cookstowngreens.com/ Also, Quinte Organic Co-op (eastern Ontario farmers) http://www.quinteorganic.ca/tiki-index.php And Kawartha Eco-growers. http://www.kawarthaecogrowers.locallygrown.net They also have game meat at the market, which I would love to see back in the store. Deer Valley is the name of the vendor http://www.venison.ca/ There's a bunch more. This is the webpage for one of my local markets, I just highlighted the one's I buy from. http://evergreen.ca/rethinkspace/?p=148#farmers
09/09/2008 12:58:34 PM CDT
hsiaw says ...
Hi Kevin. Thanks for your comment. I spoke with our local forager for our Toronto store and she’s informed me that we are already talking to Cookstown about selling to us. Our produce team and the Store Team Leader of the Toronto store have been alerted of these other potential vendors you’ve mentioned. We are constantly trying to add new products, but may not have had time to get to everyone yet, so we appreciate our customers helping us ‘forage’ and suggest new suppliers. Keep in mind though that even if a supplier is local, they have to meet our rigorous quality standards in order to be in our stores. Just because something is local, doesn’t mean that it will necessarily meet our quality standards. We really appreciate all the information that you’ve provided to us, and we will be looking into contacting the farmers that you mentioned, and see how we can work with them in the future.
09/11/2008 9:41:45 AM CDT
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