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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Whole Foods returns to its roots with in-store Wellness Clubs

Taking a cue from conventional grocery, Whole Foods is poised to launch a new health program in select stores beginning this August. The Wellness Clubs will feature services including nutrition classes, breakfast and supper clubs, yoga, fitness classes, group support meetings and cooking classes.

A consumer walks into a grocery store and heads not to the produce section but to a wellness center. Fifteen minutes later she has a shopping list in hand created by a dietitian just for her family's health needs. She has $7 in coupons for the items she needs and an appointment to consult with a holistic esthetician to rehaul her face-care routine.

Whole Foods MarketShe's ready to fill her cart.

Whole Foods' new Wellness Clubs might look something like this. In February, Co-Chief Executive Officer Walter Robb announced the company would be piloting Wellness Clubs in four of its stores this summer.

According to a release on the company's website, the Wellness Clubs will feature services to support healthy lifestyle change or maintenance that include breakfast and supper clubs, yoga, group support meetings and nutrition, fitness and cooking classes. Members will also receive a 10 percent discount on many products throughout the store.

The first club will open mid-August in the Dedham, Mass., store. The Denham Wellness Club opening will be followed by the Lincoln Park store club opening slated for September.

The Wellness Clubs are part of Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer John Mackey's commitment to taking the chain back to its original roots of health and wellness, say Jeff Wells, reporter, Supermarket News.

Competing with mass

Experts speculate that Whole Foods is taking a cue from mass's foray into in-store wellness. "They showed with Health Starts Here they are getting back to the roots of their mission. They've seen how popular [in-store wellness] is getting in mass and they want to show they are the best at it," Wells said.

Many conventional grocery stores now offer health programs like in-store dietitians, menu planning, health fairs and informational shelf-talkers. Most of these initiatives, though, have focused on the traditional medical model like flu shots and United States Department of Agriculture guidelines.

Whole Food's Wellness Clubs could reinvigorate mass and redefine their in-store health programs, some of which are not panning out. Publix announced that it will be closing its in-store Little Clinics. "[Whole Foods] is a real risk taker and mass likes to follow and borrow from them," Wells said.

How much will it cost?

A fee structure has not yet been announced for the Wellness Clubs, which will be built inside existing stores. A $40 to $50 monthly fee has been mentioned by the company, but not confirmed. It's a big price tag in this economy, experts agree.

"They will have to offer a lot of personalization to command that price," said Nancy Coulter-Parker, director of retail content, New Hope Natural Media. "They would have to offer personalized meal plans, supplement regimens—almost a personal shopper experience," she says.

"I'd like to see it encompass an entire healthy lifestyle. So maybe they're teaching people about green cleaning products, what personal care to buy and supplements; these are the areas where consumers look at the choices and just say, 'I can't deal with that.'"

Conventional shoppers, though, might shy away from a monthly fee. "They could be drawn [to the concept] but the buy-in might turn them off," Wells said. "Initially, I can see the clubs appealing to core [natural] shoppers."

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