Natural Foods Merchandiser

Whole Foods commits money, priority to local products

In effort to support small-scale local agriculture, Whole Foods Market's Chief Executive Officer John Mackey announced in his blog the launch of several new initiatives for the company, including a $10 million annual budget to promote local agricultural entrepreneurs.

The announcement came in the form of an open letter to Michael Pollan, who had been critical of Whole Foods Markets' practices in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. The blog entry announced that sourcing local products would take a higher priority at Whole Foods. Buyers will be held responsible to source from local producers, and $10 million annually will be set aside for long-term loans that select Whole Foods buyers can extend to smaller scale agricultural entrepreneurs.

Mackey committed stand-alone Whole Foods Markets to hosting farmers' markets in their parking lots, cooperating with local farmers as they sell directly to customers. He also added that marketing teams will be directly responsible for educating customers about locally produced products.

Gabriel Peters, a grocery department team member at the Boulder, Colo., Whole Foods Market, said he is excited about the new initiatives. Though local products are already labeled throughout the store with blue ribbons, Peters said it would be better to be more specific about products' origins so customers know exactly where their food comes from. He pointed out that hosting farmers' markets in Whole Foods parking lots would also give team members a chance to become more educated about local products so they can better serve customers.

Peters said farmers' markets might include produce that has not been certified organic, even though it is from small-scale local producers. He pointed out that some local producers conform to organic standards but do not pay to have the official certification.

Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, commented that the debate about healthy food should not have to be between whether it's local or organic. "It should be both," Scowcroft said. "Local and organic is a match made in heaven."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 8/p. 14

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