‘We’re Still Whole Foods’: Life After Amazon
Whole Foods Market Store Count by State
Almost half of Whole Foods stores are located in 5 states, although the company has a near-nationwide presence.
# of Stores
Source: Whole Foods Market
To prove just how much Whole Foods is still Whole Foods, the company accelerated the evolution of its quality standards this year when it launched the Sourced for Good seal, an exclusive third-party certification program that supports responsible sourcing. The Sourced for Good seal is also designed to help shoppers easily identify products that meet the high sourcing standards required by the program.
“Transparency is really important,” Twyman emphasizes, “and it’s not just about the animal or the product, it’s also about the people. The need to ensure that people are treated well and they’re making a living wage is important insofar as how we view the food that we eat. With Sourced for Good, worker welfare is a key component to that. Our goal is to expand that program to other areas and other categories.”
Whole Foods cites a recent study conducted by The Harris Poll among more than 3,000 U.S. adults, which found that 75% of Americans say when grocery shopping, it’s important to them that products are responsibly sourced, while 65% of U.S. shoppers are confused about how to determine whether a product is responsibly sourced.
The retailer’s desire to leverage these sustainability-related consumer trends can be seen not just on labels, but also in its push to operate hyper-local stores with locally focused assortments.
Whole Foods opens stores of varying sizes and selling spaces — a location could be 20,000 square feet or 70,000 square feet, Twyman points out — and that’s all by design: Despite being owned by Amazon, which operates other food retail banners such as Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods isn’t trying to be anything other than Whole Foods, he notes.
“Our stores are different sizes; they’re different formats or layouts,” he says. “There’s some markets that maybe demographically are less core customer and maybe have a higher proportion of other shoppers that aren’t the core natural food shopper, whereas in other parts of the country, you may have a very, very solid core customer, somebody who’s really looking for organic or local. And the great thing is, we have the ability to flex within our stores and be able to do that.”
According to Twyman, Whole Foods stores are designed individually to be consistent with the personality of each community.
“There’s certainly core elements that we incorporate into all our stores, but there’s always unique elements,” he observes. “In particular, the product assortment, heavy emphasis on local products, products from the local area in the community. That’s always a heavy focus for us.”
When it comes to merchandising, the retailer strives to find the perfect balance of national brands, local brands and private-brand products, which the company has been expanding into new categories.
“Our 365 private label program is an area where we are continuing to innovate with new offerings and exclusive brands,” Twyman says. “We have delved into our consumer research, evaluated category trends, knowing that a lot more people are looking for plant-based opportunities.”
Most assortments place a heavy emphasis on direct-delivery local items, however, which are called out prominently in the store with colorful signage.
Last year the company promoted Will Betts to VP of local merchandising to elevate the local program at each store; Betts partners with a team of local “foragers” in each region.
“The foragers are out there in the field to help to bring those local products,” Twyman explains. “Some of those are just great stories. They may be great stories about sustainability [or] regenerative agriculture, but they bring something to the table that’s differentiated in that way.”
Twyman notes that Whole Foods has increased its penetration of local product SKUs by 30% since 2016, adding that the retailer has the unique ability to scale those products to take them from local to global.
“Justin’s Nut Butter is a great example of this,” Twyman says. “It was a product that really started with us, and now they’re a global supplier.”
The retailer also focuses on local when it comes to its famously expansive prepared food offering. Before the pandemic, Whole Foods had perfected a unique in-store shopping experience with restaurants, bars and other experiential offerings. Twyman insists that the consumer seeking that culinary experience will be back.
“Last year, we made an additional investment in culinary, which is prepared foods and bakery,” he recounts. “We brought in Jeff Turnas, who had previously been the president of our 365 banner. Jeff has worked to build a team to support culinary focused on convenience and quality. Our prepared foods use the same ingredients, the same products, on our grocery shelves, so it’s restaurant-quality food with the same food philosophy that we have elsewhere.”