Natural Foods Merchandiser

Whole Foods holds on to its roots

Dog parking, electric-car plug-ins and kombucha on tap? A new Colorado Whole Foods Market location has lots of quirks to get the eco-conscious masses Twittering. But it's still an educated, customer-service-oriented staff that keeps this naturals megastore on the up-and-up.

The new store in Centennial, Colo.—the first in the Rocky Mountain region in four years—brings Whole Foods to a total of 282 locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The company employs more than 53,000 people year 2008 were $8 billion.

Green building materials and eco-attitude are central to the store's design. Light sensors in aisles turn on and off depending on shopper activity. Night curtains on open cases in the produce section keep cool air from escaping throughout the store. Solar-tracking skylights take advantage of daylight. Heater-cycling controls, multi-point leak sensing to signal water leaks, and hot-water heat reclaimed from the refrigeration system are just a few behind-the-scenes additions that won this Whole Foods Market a Green Globes certification, awarded by the Green Building Initiative of Canada.

But the most impressive thing about the newest Colorado location isn't necessarily the reclaimed materials used to build and furnish the 58,000 square feet or the old-time butcher's counter that sells only grass-fed, free-range beef cut to order. What stands out is how the employees interact with customers. There's no specialty food that can't be sampled, no private label product that can't be traced to its origins. Ask about a farmer, and receive a name and personal details. Inquire about a cut of fish while at the free seafood filleting station and you get the name of the captain on one of Whole Foods' own fishing boats.

"We look for people who are passionate about food—excited about organic and natural," says Rob Plutt, the store's team leader. "We have farmers and chefs, some who have worked in the industry for 35 years. Some have never been in retail and want to be part of something different."

All employees receive training and continued education about food, products and the naturals industry.

"We invest in labor," says Ben Friedland, marketing coordinator for Whole Foods' Rocky Mountain region. "First, we want to ensure [employees] are happy. Then, we focus on education. We provide them with the knowledge they need to run their sections like they are running their own businesses. They are entrepreneurs."

A Whole Foods education isn't just about where a product comes from or how eco-friendly the packaging is. It's about communicating value—something that has to be evident to the shopper, especially during an economic downturn, says Ron Megahan, Whole Foods' vice president of design and development.

"We're going to compete by telling the truth about natural and organic," Megahan says. "And we're going to do a better job telling that quality story with competitive pricing."

Whole Foods Market
6853 York St.
Centennial, CO 80122
Store size: 58,000 square feet
Employees: 185
Largest prepared-foods department in a Colorado Whole Foods store, including a burrito bar, pizza oven, sandwich bar, hot bar and chef's case
First store with natural fountain drinks
Electric-car plug-in parking spaces
Dog "parking" in front of the store, and expanded pet selections

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