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Whole Foods--Portland, ME

c
cfrolio Feb 23, 2007 05:43 PM

Anyone been to the Whole Foods store that just opened in Portland? I read they're trying to feature local products. I'd love to hear from anyone who's been there.

  1. g
    goat Feb 24, 2007 04:21 AM

    The new Whole Foods is great. I think that some things were a little overpriced. The seafood counter especially, with Atlantic Salmon @ 10.99lb and Chilean Sea Bass @ 22.95lb. In general, I think the seafood counter is the least impressive aspect of the new store. I love their meat counter, which includes strips and porterhouses that have been dry-aged in house, and at 19.99lb and 17.99lb respectively, a pretty good deal. Their produce seems to be priced very similarly to Hannafords (lemons .79, limes 2 for $1, bananas .79) and some really great deals as well (San Marzano Tomatoes 28oz cans 2 for $4, normally 3.79 per can at Hannafords). Obviously, Whole Foods is known for their to-go/prepared foods, which includes lots of hot, ready-to-eat things (salad bar, trail mix bar, Italian bar, dessert bar, gelato bar) as well as packaged things to heat up at home. Most of it looks pretty good and is pricey, but not crazy by any means. If you happen to love sweets and cheeses, then you will really love Whole Foods, since both departments are excellent. Overall, Whole Foods is a lot better than Wild Oats, which has a much more limited selection and is definitely more expensive across the board.
    In terms of the local product thing, when you walk in the front doors, there's a sign listing the number of Maine made products currently available. Last week the sign said 500.

    1. i
      irwin Feb 24, 2007 08:34 AM

      I feel that Whole Foods prepared foods look much better then they taste, whereas Wild Oats has better tasting prepared foods. I feel they are way overpriced, but they are a specialty market. The bread dept. at Whole Foods sucks, whereas the bread dept at Wild Oats is great.

      1. k
        Keefer Lucas Feb 24, 2007 12:20 PM

        I disagree Irwin - I actually found the almost the same bread selection (including When Pigs Fly) at Whole Foods when I went there today.

        I like the place, but wish they had a few more "plain old everyday" items like Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup. Despite the selection at Whole Foods, I STILL need to go to Hannaford to find things that the kids will eat...

        Right now parking at Whole Foods is a real challange - if you are eager to try the place out I'd visit during off-peak hours, especially if its your first time in the store. The good news is that there are SEEMING THOUSANDS of employees to help you find things - when was the last time you found employees at Hannaford or Shaws conveniently in the aisles, just to help you out (not that I expect that level of customer service to LAST)?

        1. f
          finewineserver Feb 24, 2007 03:35 PM

          According to the local news, Whole Foods is purching Wild Oats.

          1. f
            finewineserver Feb 24, 2007 03:36 PM

            Oops - that would be purchasing. Sorry.

            1. l
              liveforfood Feb 24, 2007 04:08 PM

              I live nearby the new Whole Foods and have been there a number of times since they opened on the snowy 14th (went there that day and it was MOBBED, snow and all). I think it is a lovely store--at least from what I've experienced so far. I'm still getting to know the place, and honestly, I think it will take a while to become well acquainted. It is always very crowded, so its not a place you can get in and out of quickly, it seems, at least not right now. Hard to find parking, too. But one thing I do notice is that that meat dept. is very good--lots of selections for organic or natural beef,chicken, pork, etc. and reasonable prices for the quality, I think. Cheese selections seem excellent, too, and also priced well (got high quality Reggiano Parm for 9.99 vs. the usual 14.00 per pound). As for local produce, I think they are doing everything they can to feature Maine-grown stuff in the dead of winter.--got some great potatos today from a local producer. How much they offer during peak season will be more telling of the commitment to local farmers. I agree about the prepared foods--ok but nothing to rave about. Better than a lot of places, though--still pricey. Had lunch there with my 8 year old son there today before grocery shopping--he loves the different food "buffets", esp. the gelato selections and italian pasta, and samosas (an indian friend of mine complained about how bad they are, though--of course, she is a great cook herself). Let's face it, though--prepared foods are never going to be fantastic, so I don't think it is reasonable to expect that. I do think they are decent, though, and I know I will buy and enjoy them. There is a lot and I haven't tried enough yet to comment on the specific offerings too much. I appreciate the post about WF and hope we can continue to share our views here as we all get to know the place a little better.

              My overall feel of WF right now is that they are working hard to both dazzle this community and to meet its needs. Doesn't feel like a Portland Maine store (this might not be a good thing)--very urban. I do think it trumps Wild Oats by far.

              Important note: Hannaford on Forest (and I think the chain) no longer will carry Wolf's Neck Beef which means they have no natural beef at this point. What little they do carry at this point from W.N. is not very fresh, it seems, and extremely limited. Very disappointing and the timing of the discontinuance is particularly bad and not smart, given the opening of WF. I plan to express my dismay about this to the store manager and I encourage others to do this as well.

              1. g
                grittys457 Feb 24, 2007 07:04 PM

                This place is incredible looking. It really feels like an event when you are in there. I really can't wait until the summertime with the outdoor seating at the Trattoria. I think this would have all but killed the Public Market had it not closed anyway.

                Being so busy is a great sign for people wanting to invest in that area. Within a year or two you will have the Miss Portland Diner across the street, a 9 story Intermed building, 400 people in new student housing building, Pearl place, etc.
                It really will act as an anchor to that area and I suspect it will stay that busy for a long, long time.

                1. d
                  Dan S. Feb 25, 2007 04:04 AM

                  I think the new Whole Foods certainly adds something to the community, but my report isn't entirely as glowing. First off, I think it's a real loss for Portland that Wild Oats was purchased by Whole Foods. According to the woman at the W.O. checkout, they'll begin calling themselves Whole Foods within 6-8 weeks, and the store will of course almost definitely close. Competition is healthy, and despite the proximity of the two stores, Portland is pretty well starved for produce options, especially in the dead of winter. Having the two stores really helps when one decides to charge, say, $5.95 for a bag of celery (to be fair, it's a price I've only seen at Wild Oats so far).

                  Whole Foods is quite impressive and overwhelming upon first entry. Well - not entirely. The parking lot is a disaster, an unbelievable miscalculation (not sure if they any alternative) and a bevy of car accidents waiting to happen. The store itself appears huge and super sized and all that. But I've noticed when you go to individual sections to look for basic stuff - pasta, canned tomatoes, bread, to name a few, they're often surprisingly small. The pasta selection is anemic - smaller than Wild Oats. As another poster mentioned above, the bread counter is disappointingly small.

                  Bulk is also a good bit better at Wild Oats, and was MUCH better at the Whole Grocer. Anyone remember that neat loose tea section from the W.G.? Gone. It seems that Whole Foods really put a strong emphasis on prepared foods, and I don't mind having some options, but it comes at the expense of some of the more standard whole/health food selections you'd like to see. As a for instance, the new store has an enormous flesh festival as a meat section - more meat than I think I've seen anywhere at one time, complete with a chili/BBQ bar (an alternating menu of three kinds of chili, none vegetarian ever). But when I asked an employee if they had any kind of veggie bacon, she had to withdraw into the back of the store and came out with only tempeh strips, which wasn't what I was looking for. Granted they just opened, but I for one am sorry to see such an emphasis on meat products throughout the store, and comparitively such meagre treatment of vegetarians (who have a tough time of it in Portland to begin with).

                  As for the prepared foods - some are really quite good. Comments above notwithstanding, the Indian food at the Indian bar is excellent - right up there with the best Indian food available in Portland. But as with all the other Indian food here, it is starkly overpriced. A full container - barely enough for two people - cost me over $15, and for the same price I can get some quality food made to order. It's not so much that the W.F. prepared food isn't worth it - it's just that at the prices they're charging it ultimately doesn't really add a viable option to the scene for me.

                  The trattoria and cafe area looks nice, although it's far more formal and upscale than the very casual Wild Oats cafe, and it's impossible to access the tratorria area without passing through the (often mobbed) checkout area. The result is that the cafe feels like just another expensive restaurant in a town that has no shortage of them. It serves a purpose, but the Wild Oats cafe offered a far more unique service to the town.

                  Anyway, as for right now, I think I will do most of my shopping at Wild Oats until it's gone. The experience is far more hassle free - no parking lot disaster, no endless lines at checkout, and, aside from prepared food and fresh meat and seafood (I think the Whole Foods seafood counter is actually excellent, and, since it's open until 10, a great addition to Portland. Wild Oats' seafood counter always kind of grosses me out), Wild Oats seems to have as good or better a selection when it comes to standard health food type products.

                  All that said, the arrival of Whole Foods, with or without Wild Oats, does not alleviate the need in Portland for either a genuine health food store, or better still, a local food co-op. I like the convenience of Whole Foods and Wild Oats, but I'd gladly sacrifice a touch of that to support a locally run co-op with far more sensitivity to the vegetarian/health food population. I don't really need aisles of prepared meat and a dessert bar - I'd like a more compact, homey, local-oriented shopping experience, and Portland of all places should be able to provide that. And I HAVE heard whispers that a Portland co-op is in the planning stages (I am not involved....as yet) so here's hoping.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Dan S.
                    l
                    liveforfood Feb 28, 2007 06:34 AM

                    I agree with many of your points, Dan S., and while I feel primarily positive about WF, I have ambivalence about it, too. And you are right--it is not easy to get in and out of the place and WO is much more accessible. This is a real problem because it makes going to the grocery a huge event and I avoid it unless I am doing a major shop (not worth the hassle for a few things). The trattoria/prepared food area needs some work--given that they have made it such a huge part of the store (too huge, in my opinion), they really need to have a couple of registers dedicated to the take out section, maybe even located in that section, and perhaps they should treat the area as almost a separate endeavor. It is a real inconvenience to wait in a long line of filled shopping carts to pay for your lunch. And given what they profess to be, they should be attending to the needs of vegetarian eaters--and eaters of all kinds. And I am a carnivore (omnivore, actually, I like ALL food) who is very pleased to have a large, high quality, natural meat selection (though I think the prepared meats--ribs, etc--are excessive). I am worried about the employees at WO--I was there yesterday and spoke to a cashier, too. She said she was worried--apparently they have been told there will be jobs at WF for them, but nothing is clear. I'd be really mad if those dedicated employees get screwed in this deal. I hope some WF administrators will be reading our posts here on Chowhound. I suppose we can also write directly to the company to share concerns and offer insights for improvement as they enter this community.

                    Having said all of this, overall, I like WF so far. In my limited shopping experience there, my impression is that the prices are better than WO. Some of their items are priced lower than the same items at W.O., e.g., Poland Spring sparkling water for .99 instead of 1.19. I like that I can buy organic Heinz ketchup there (my son hates the other brands), and many products under their own label are very reasonable and good. The parking situation needs improvement for sure and there are other glitches I've already mentioned or alluded to that I hope they will address (another seemingly small but annoying thing, since I am complaining, is how the sun glares into the front of the store in the afternoon so you are blinded if you are standing in line--some kind of window shade to quell the glare would be nice). I hope they make changes as they learn more about the needs/wants of people here. I like the idea of a food co-op in Portland, too

                    1. re: liveforfood
                      h
                      Hamhock Mar 11, 2007 07:06 PM

                      For what it's worth, there is one checkout lane solely dedicated for lunch takeout.

                  2. b
                    beaner2 Feb 28, 2007 12:11 PM

                    Last Wednesday was my first visit to Whole Foods. I foolishly thought I could dash in and pick up one item that I have been trying to find for weeks. I liked what I saw, and I was able to find something that I couldn't find anyplace else. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a quick in & out, even in mid-week. Maybe that will change once the "shiny, new" factor fades. I agree with the above sentiments on the horrible parking situation. Not only was the lot filled to capacity, there were cars parked illegally on the adjacent street. Naturally, PPD "parking fairies" were right on it. I ended up lurking near the store exit and following a customer out of the store to get a parking space.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: beaner2
                      l
                      liveforfood Feb 28, 2007 04:12 PM

                      I did the same thing--its the only way to get a space. I, too, hope it will change when the novelty of the place wears off. It will be a drag if it continues on like this--and I know that alone will discourage me from shopping there. I just don't have that kind of time on my hands.

                    2. Dual Mar 10, 2007 05:55 PM

                      And so here we have it: a giant overpriced disneyworld of a grocery with inadequate parking and absent many of the staples sold in the well-established small store it replaced. My reaction: claustrophobia and agoraphobia at once. What a kick! Not.

                      The practice of making food prices clear and easily compared doesn't sit well with Whole Foods' management: it's often very hard to figure out what you're really paying for something.

                      From available evidence, once Wild Oats is subsumed, you won't be able to get pork shoulder, or hanger, skirt and tri-tip steaks. Green Mountain coffee. And a bunch of other stuff too I'm not thinking of tight now, for sure. Of course there's Pat's, but what fun is that? (Kidding)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Dual
                        a
                        anyasmifya Mar 13, 2007 10:05 AM

                        I love that "a giant overpriced disneyworld of a grocery."

                      2. a
                        anyasmifya Mar 13, 2007 10:06 AM

                        I went with my boyfriend to the Trattoria yesterday for lunch. We ate at the Sushi bar. I don't believe the prices were ridiculous but I definitely left hungry. And what's with the employees not being allowed to accept tips? But horrors of horrors at our "health-conscious, environmentally friendly Whole Foods", they served my boiling hot Bridal Bouquet Tea $3.50, in a POLYCARBONATE cup.

                        Overall, I must admit I had fun shopping there after lunch. I did leave feeling very poor and a little sad. It doesn't seem right that only wealthy people can afford to shop there.

                        1. k
                          Keefer Lucas Mar 13, 2007 01:01 PM

                          The only think that Whole Food currently lacks is a martini bar at the entrance so shoppers can wander around cocktail-in-hand. Maybe Chandrika can do something about that...

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Keefer Lucas
                            c
                            cap Mar 14, 2007 02:56 PM

                            At the Whole Foods near Milwaukee WI one can indeed wander around glass-of-beer-in-hand or glass-of-wine-in-hand.

                            1. re: Keefer Lucas
                              l
                              liveforfood Mar 23, 2007 06:40 PM

                              Great idea! What do you say, Chandrika????

                              1. re: liveforfood
                                m
                                mainehound Mar 25, 2007 02:12 PM

                                I just learned that the WF Gelato bar serves mostly gelato made in Portland by Maple Organics on Forest Ave. I like that!
                                As for the dessert bar, I hope they get rid of it. It's kind of gross. Who would eat that glop?
                                I do like Ed's Tantalizing Tofu, and some of the other prepared foods.

                                1. re: mainehound
                                  l
                                  liveforfood Mar 26, 2007 05:57 AM

                                  The gelato is very tasty--and I'm gald they use Maple Organics. But, I think there are two kinds there, from what I was told--the M.O. brand and then the gelato they make right there in the store. So you need to ask what's what. I agree with mainehound about the dessert bar--it is kind of gross. Huge trays of tirmisu, fruit crisps, etc. These kinds of desserts do not stay appetizing once spooned out into a plastic container. Also, the same issue applies to all the prepared foods sitting in trays--that things get soft, or dried, and generally lose their appeal the longer they sit. The dessert buffet in particular is reminiscent of the Picadilly Cafeteria, minus the Ambrosia (for those of you who know of this Southern chain). I hope they at least get rid of the dessert bar, too, and maybe some of the others. Its a little over the top.

                                  1. re: liveforfood
                                    serendipityeats Mar 30, 2007 04:30 AM

                                    Yea, that's not going to happen. Every larger whole foods I've been in has had something similar to it. I'd be more apt to get something from the dessert bar though than any of the hot/salad bars, especially the meat hot bar. Though, to be fair, at least the meat and dessert bars are made in house and aren't shipped from Mass.

                                  2. re: mainehound
                                    m
                                    maples May 16, 2007 05:08 AM

                                    This is Kristie from Maple's (actual business name is Maple's Organic Desserts (: ). Right now about 2/3 of the flavors at the Whole Foods gelato bar are ours, and therefore certified organic and local. The other flavors are made on-site from a mix, allowing them to do some very cool mix-ins with leftovers from the candy bar, etc. There are signs on the flavors indicating which are ours and which are store-made, though you do have to look pretty closely.

                                  3. re: liveforfood
                                    serendipityeats Apr 26, 2007 04:12 AM

                                    Her last day, I've heard, is this Saturday.

                                2. n
                                  nohohound Mar 26, 2007 06:22 AM

                                  By the way, when I last looked at the WF in Mass., those 2-for-$4 San Marzano tomatoes are from the very non-Italian province of California. Read the label.

                                  1. r
                                    reflections Mar 30, 2007 11:39 AM

                                    I actually found it funny someone said that Whole Foods is far cheaper than Wild Oats. Having been to a multitude of both stores across the country. Whole Paycheck didn't earn that nickname by being price beaters. Although I found it funny how cheap things were when they first opened up here in Portland, I also found it funny how a little more than a month later, their prices are slowing creeping back to the pricey level.
                                    They definitely have approached the Portland area though with a beautiful reckless abandon. Surpassing store size and approaching (gasp) Wal Mart size as far as "Organic" Grocery store. And as soon as they complete their deal of buying Wild Oats and shut down it. They'll be able to run the town they want to...until of course Mr Joe's comes around.
                                    It's weird how many quoted prices are in the previous replies. Almost like people are reading their receipts. I usually only remember prices of items I buy or want to buy at a later date. I doubt the WF would have people posting on here.. Or would they.
                                    Watch out Lois Natural Foods in Scarborough. Your next.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: reflections
                                      serendipityeats Mar 30, 2007 12:58 PM

                                      The Bollard just ran on essay article that did a price comparison on WF and Hannford. Go to http://www.thebollard.com and search Whole Foods.

                                      1. re: serendipityeats
                                        c
                                        cneal Mar 30, 2007 04:02 PM

                                        Looks to me like WhoFooMa is taking one from the Wal Mart playbook.

                                        Note that the prices for eggs and milk are cheaper at WF, but everything else is 25% more expensive. This is classic retail psychology: most people know the prices for staples, so when we see cheap eggs, we usually infer that everything must be a bargain. Most big box stores use this trick to create the illusion of low prices, and then they raise their prices once the local competition sinks.

                                        Stacy Mitchell writes about this in her book Big Box Swindle - a highly recommended read.

                                        1. re: serendipityeats
                                          r
                                          reflections Apr 1, 2007 07:37 AM

                                          Actually the problem with that is that, as they are farther and farther away from their Grand Opening... their prices slowly get back to their "Whole Paycheck" prices. This is definitely something they don't shy away from.
                                          So I would like to see their price differences in 6 months and a year. Then you'll see just how "cheap" Whole Foods is.

                                      2. d
                                        duane Apr 8, 2007 08:29 AM

                                        I love the irony. Right in the midst of Portland's junk yards and its homeless people is this temple to yuppiedom. The parking lot is a constant traffic jam made up of Lexis', Mercedes, and other such, all pouring in from the burbs. I really enjoy walking around looking at all the food I can not afford. They do have good prices on bulk granola ( which Whole Grocer did and Wild Oats does not), their 365 store brand stuff is usually reasonable, and they do buy up bulk lots of cheap wine which one can get down (just make a statement while checking out that you are picking it up for a poor neighbor so you do not look like a peasant in front of the people purchasing the good stuff)

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