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Jul 16, 2007 11:31 PM

What's up with Whole Foods?

I know I have complained about them before but this is too much. I was going to go to Murray's to get cheese for a dinner tomorrow but I was at Union Square so I went to WF instead. I waited for a few minutes and then asked the cheese person to recommend a soft goat cheese from either France or the US. She pointed to a case around the corner and said "The logs of goat cheese are there." I asked about the ones in front of her and was told that they were expensive and that she hadn't tried them but I could have some if I wanted.

I don't expect every supermarket employee to be an expert but come on. I am so tired of Whole Foods pretending that it's a top tier market. It just isn't. I can't think of one department (meat, cheese, fish, coffee) whose quality is not quite easily trumped by another store in NYC. Even less expensive ones.

Sorry to vent but I'm always surprised by the crowds. I find the place mediocre at best.


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  1. It's a matter of branding. A certain demographic of consumer has decided they feel most like themselves (green, eco-conscious, no paper bags, please) in there, and they can be with like people. I don't find anything in the store particularly tempting. The bread, produce or meat is fresher at any number of local shops that specialise in one thing, and occasionally I get the feeling the Union Sq. is not all that clean. Maybe it has to do with the sheer numbers of humanity moving through there.

    1. Well, it's a chain store ...

      I think that, for certain specialty items -- fish, cheese, cured meat -- you really have to be committed to the products from the top down in order to really do it right. The manager has to know how to handle the items and the staff has to have a knowledge and an interest in providing the right kind of service.

      I think that this can be done in a full-service specialty supermarket -- I've had great luck with the cheese counter at Dean and Deluca -- but trying to duplicate that in a nationwide chain is pretty tough, I'd guess.

      1. The WFon Houston seems to have knowledgeable cheese people.

        2 Replies
        1. re: michele cindy

          Second this. Whole Foods Bowery has a pretty impressive cheese department.

          1. re: LeahBaila

            the store on houston has a neal's yard outlet in it, one of the world's premier cheese merchants. the people working there work for neal's yard, not whole foods and really know their stuff. can't speak for whole food's cheese counter right outside of it, as i don't see any reason to shop there with a neal's yard five paces away.

        2. I must agree. On several occasions I've tried "fresh" fish at Whole Paycheck, I mean Foods, only to find that it is anything but fresh, especially at the U. Sq. store. I have had somewhat better luck at the Chelsea location, (which seems more like a local bodega when compared to either Union Sq. or Houston), but am still generally disappointed with the freshness of the fish, the quality of the meats and the mediocrity of the prepared foods. I also complained to the Meat Manager and the District Meat Manager as to the price of Bell & Evans Chickens, which are generally 20-30 cents a pound less expensive at Citarella, Fairway or even Jefferson market. I was told, and I quote (loosely), "If we can get $2.69 a pound why shouldn't we?" Arrogant bastards. At first, I liked Whole Foods. The people were all friendly and extremely helpful, but, as often seems to be the case, their rapid expansion has clearly compromised their commitment to quality. I also have to say I miss Bill Jones from the Chelsea store and hearing his voice directing the now-computerized checkout lines is not the same!

          4 Replies
          1. re: foodluvngal

            yes, the fish there is pretty awful...i walk the extra few blocks to Citarella when i'm cooking fish...and for serious cheese sampling, i much prefer the 14th St. Garden of Eden...and while some of the produce is decent, some of it is appalling (the onions are usually beyond disgusting for example)...but, i still go there to buy unsweetened soymilk, overpriced-but-addictive tamari almonds, and some organic meat...

            1. re: JeremyEG

              When they first started opening WFs in NY is was incredibly excited to shop at them - I still find the one at Columbus Circle to be decent quality although extremely crowded. I felt the decline in quality and have migrated back to the Chelsea Market.

              I will say, though, while I agree with everyone's gripes against Whole Foods that I still will, on occassion shop there. That is more than I can say for any other major NYC supermarket. And while I probably would not buy fish and agree the meat is expensive, I would contemplate buying both if they looked fresh.

              WFs has its faults, but it is definitely better than not having it.

              1. re: john

                I think I disagree with your last statement -- about it being better than not having WF. I think this is a matter of which neighborhood you live in. Perhaps in some neighborhoods having WF adds something that was unavailable or inconvenient. But there are other neighborhoods where one can buy at small purveryors or combinations of places like Citarella, Fairway, Zabar's, Murray's, etc. In these neighborhoods, WF brings nothing to the table (IMHO).

                1. re: john

                  I also used to share your sentiment when they first opened in NY, and I also find their Columbus circle branch still pretty decent. However, I came to realization that that half of the products in the store were just overpriced conventional products and not organic as the image the brand conveys seemed to be. Also despite being a national chain and having a leverage to buy products in bulk, their prices are often higher than of many independent stores in NY.

                  I also think that despite of whatever noble intentions the company was driven when it first started, quickly evaporate as the company goes public and gets street visibility, so it has to meet the bottom-line every 3 months. I also find their competition crashing practices very Walmartish. Wait and see till they buy out all your local markets or drive them out of business, but then it will be too late to stop patronizing them. Right now the way they keep Wall street happy is their aggressive expansion, but as soon as they reach market saturation they will have to focus on their margins, so we'll end up with another walmart - huge chain of mediocre product (at least walmart prices are low).

            2. I shop at Whole Foods for the products that are hard/impossible to get anywhere else. They have quite a few of these that I consider my regular staples. They have quite a few natural and organic things that are hard to find in other places.

              But as for high end knowledge? I don't go in expecting that.

              1 Reply
              1. re: BW212

                I have to agree with you BW. I shop primarily at the Greenmarket across the street, and go into WF to get their 365 EVOO (an excellent qpr) and Silk Soymilk (priced better than my local store in Jersey City), and a few similar items.

                I often buy cheese there because its convenient, and I usually know what I want, but the prices are HIGH unless the item is "on sale."

                WF is fast becoming "just another chain," and that's too bad. It defeats the whole premise, imho.