Features, Grocery and Food

New Whole Foods Format

You can hardly call it a grocery store anymore. The brand-new Whole Foods Market, just opened in Atlanta, is so much more than a supermarket and clearly points the direction for how food retailers are working to keep their physical locations relevant. The 70,000-square-foot store, spread out over four stories at the base of a residential tower in the booming midtown area of the city, devotes perhaps as much as 25 percent of its selling space to non-supermarket functions, including four restaurants, aisle after aisle of prepared food stations and a number of food-court-style counters where shoppers can pick up not just what’s for dinner later, but what’s for lunch right now.

Whole Foods – and this particular Whole Foods – is by no means alone in its pursuit of nontraditional selling spaces within the supermarket format. Regional players such as Wegman’s in the Northeast and HEB in Texas – not to mention many of the other 499 Whole Foods stores around the country – all have been progressively moving to expand the definition of what a supermarket is.

Not Your Mother’s Supermarket

But under its Amazon ownership, Whole Foods is clearly upping its game with this new Atlanta store:

  • Four restaurants are included within the store’s footprint, including a bar and a soon-to-open Farm Burger outlet. But the dining options aren’t just within the store: a rooftop café called Canopy Court offers food, alcohol, games and a killer view of the city. All together the new store has seating for close to 300 people indoors and outside.
  • A significant portion of the store is devoted to hot and cold prepared food, ranging from the expected salad, pasta and olive bars through millennial-faves such as avocado toast and lettuce wrap bars.
  • Any number of additional food options are offered in both self service and attended counters, including sushi, grain bowls, pizza and even a detox bar with made-to-order smoothies and juice shots.
  • While we’ve come to expect specialized counters for meats and fish, this Whole Foods kicks it up a notch with a “Veggie Butcher” station that will cut fruits and vegetables to order. There is even a wash-up sink where shoppers can try out the trendy – and pricey – soaps the store sells by the ounce.
  • The store makes a big deal out of its local and regional offers in both food and beverages, featuring some 44 local producers in everything from beer to pickles.
  • The overall design of the store takes a sophisticated path, eschewing the more garish aspects of many supermarkets. Signage, lower fixturing and extensive display areas set a tone for the store that targets new age shoppers.
  • Events are also part of the merchandising plan at the store, including educational sessions, local entertainment, artists and makers meet-and-greets and fitness programs. One can assume not many other supermarkets beside this one offer Zumba classes.

Will It Be Enough?

Taken in total, this new store appears to be a response to the widespread belief that Amazon has struggled with putting its imprint on Whole Foods and that its performance is not where the parent company had hoped close to two years after the acquisition. “We worked hard to create a place that offers our neighbors a destination to get together, enjoy great food and connect with members of the local community,” Bobby Turner, president of the southern region for Whole Foods, said in a statement. He added that the new store, coming as the 500th in the chain, marked “an incredible milestone for the company.”

Will all of this be enough to forestall what appears to be the inevitable online onslaught? Supermarkets have the built-in benefit that most people still want to do their food shopping in person and that e-commerce has so far proven to be a largely ineffective way to shop for food. It’s why online sales of supermarket goods are only a few percentage points of the overall marketplace, far below other merchandise classifications.

But as customers increasingly turn to online services for commodity products like toilet paper, cat food and detergent, physical supermarkets are upping their game in their in-store experience, particularly when it comes to prepared foods and dine-out choices. This new Atlanta Whole Foods Market is the latest iteration of that strategy. Check it out.

Warren Shoulberg visited the new Whole Foods just to see what it looked like; $49.23 later he left.

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