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Whole Foods: Regional differences

This weekend, Mom and I drove from NJ to Richmond VA. Leaving NJ, our route took us pass the Whole Foods, we normally (it is the closest WF we occasion, but still a 50+ mile drive) frequent. We decided that a short road food shopping trip was in order. That was an excellent idea. Meant that once we arrived Hotel-wise, we already had excellent nibbles to relax over and we also well supplied with drinks and snacks en route. We stayed in the Short Pump area near Richmond and discovered a WF We stopped by to pick up some items to bring to a party and got a tad bit of an education.
WF apparently has some regional specialization going. And I wonder what else is up their bag of tricks! The VA. store we shopped at had wine and beer, local laws allow that. Yeah the selection was awesome. But two things I saw there I sure would love to see at my local WF: fresh salsa bar and a hot smoked meats bar. The salsa bar featured a good selection of chopped fresh veggie items that could be gathered then mixed with about 5 offered salsa bases. Nice idea and one I am sure could work in NJ. The smoked meat bar, well. BBQ, pulled, BBQ, beef, pork, chicken with some nice fixins' mashed pots, MAc and cheese, collards, garlic green beans and Gooooood!

So what does your WF have that maybe another region does not?

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  1. That certainly is catering to the Southern influence. Love it. My WF in Reno has THE best arugula I've ever tasted. I've wondered if others do.

    1. I worked for WFM in a couple different regions back in the nineties. The individual store managers and especially the regional heads used to have a good deal of control over the stores layout, features, etc. Buyers even had control over the local selection, though this became less so before I left in 2000. The warehouses started to have more of a say, and decisions were made higher up more often, especially regarding pricing and product mix. I honestly don't what what that situation is currently, but the company certainly has a history of local and regional decentralized control.

      1. Have only been to one other WF (in Chicago) so I don't have much to compare to, but the store here in Milwaukee has a gigantor beer section. Massive. The beer coolers stretch pretty much the same length as the entire deli/pizza/sandwich counters. Tons and tons of local and regional brews. I actually prefer WF to any local grocery/liquor store because they have such a great selection.

        Oddly, the WF in MKE also seems to always have a high portion of Indian food on the hot bar. This has always been a mystery to me. I wonder who I have to talk to about getting some of that Indian food replaced with a salsa bar... :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: mse924

          "Oddly, the WF in MKE also seems to always have a high portion of Indian food on the hot bar. This has always been a mystery to me.'

          Maybe for all of the Indian doctors from St. Mary's?

        2. Some of the differences are also simply in the store size. I remember a BBQ bar in Cleveland similar to the one you mentioned. The big difference between there and here in PIttsburgh is that store is probably twice as big. Of course store size is one of the other things they are tailoring to regions at this point, or in most cases they have scaled back and new stores are going to be smaller. The new one they're doing out in the north Pittsburgh suburbs is about the same size as the Pittsburgh city store. Another thing that accounts for difference in store size is the ability to sell beer and wine, true. In PA they can't do that so they don't bother planning for it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: CrazyOne

            I'm not so sure that store size has that much to do with the selection...here in Manhattan, the Bowery location has a separate beer store with taps, growler service and a full selection of home brewing supplies. There is also a separate climate controlled cheese room; however, the store itself is by no means the largest in NYC, and nowhere near as large as the Whole Foods in nearby Edgewater and Paramus, NJ.

            The NJ Whole Foods have their own unique additions, The Whole Foods in Edgewater, NJ had a Jamba Juice when Jamba was still exotic, and used to have a BBQ bar. Yet none have beer sections with beer brewing supplies or cheese caves.

            Likewise, the Whole Foods in Tribeca is larger than Bowery, but lacks the beer and cheese extras. Instead, there is the largest fish section I have ever seen (a monstrous 3-sided wrap-around deal with great fish, even on Sunday).

            So here it seems to be more a function of demographics rather than size.

            1. re: rifkind81

              Thanks for that info. Wow a cheese cave! Now I know how much I am missing!
              Hear that WFM???

              1. re: rifkind81

                Very interesting. I do know that product selection is quite regional, sometimes even down to the individual stores. They get locally sourced produce around here in the summer and sometimes local packaged foods that they take a chance on. But things like hot and cold food bars, that seemed to be size-related in that the huge stores have so much more of these than our tiny little store.

                Home brewing supplies, that is really crazy! Maybe the manager's own hobby? ;-)

            2. the NC locations have BBQ bars to serve local BBQ preparations, and of course a lot of Southeast produce. I like that they tell us where the produce is coming from. Around now a lot of it is local or from Florida/Georgia/S. Carolina.

              1 Reply
              1. re: fara

                The Reno, NV, store is having weekly farmers markets in nearby Sparks. Looking forward to checking it out.

              2. I've only recently had access to Whole Foods in Albuquerque, but the high prices drove me quickly back out the door. But I did buy some sausages, one a Sante Fe (of course) sausage w/ red chile. When cooked, no chile flavor, all the sausages were extremely salty to the point of being unpleasant. A local German shop, The Alpine House has much better and a lot cheaper sausages (Including Quine really good Kolbasa). The did have tastings of local salsas and red chile chocolates.
                Traders Joe's and local produce stands are much more affordable for us. The whole yuppie aura of WF just makes me uncomfortable. I guess I'm just an old Russkie peasant from NJ.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  Wait, wait, don't tell me. (One of my favorite radio programs!!!) You now shop at TJs? Do you wear Birkenstocks or Cole Haans??? :) But I do know what you mean about WF. I go there for specific items like their arugula. I can also find smaller chickens there than the ginormous ones that other stores sell. Bought a rosemary sourdough there that is fantastic. If entertaining, I sometimes buy a selection from their olive bar. I don't shop there enough to say but others here say their 365 private label is quite affordable. And in Reno, the nearest place with WF and TJs, we don't have a plethora of choices so I tend to go to certain places for certain things. No roadside stands here but my Latino market has a huge selection at great prices, i.e., cilantro 8 for a $1. Also get also the "esoteric" meats and cuts. Have a whole goat leg in my freezer right now. I appreciate the bounty.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Birkies, I wear my Cole Haans and Clark's to school. In Grants there is no real bread, just Wonder varieties, no cheese, fish, or olives either. Quality bread, at TJ's is HALF the price of the super market junque. I main line Two Buck Chuck. I live in small isolated desert town. I'm a Trade Joe's convert, there I said it. I got burned by the yuppie scrunchie moms w/ their 3 wheeled baby strollers pushing ahead of me and being waited on ahead of me by the drooling male staff. I turned around and walked out. I just am not comfortable w/ the aura, it ain't me babe, no, no it ain't me..

                    1. re: c oliver

                      If you stick to what's on sale and their store brand, you can do quite well at WF. Their milk is cheaper than Safeway's.

                      Just never walk in there hungry.

                    2. re: Passadumkeg

                      Hear, hear, Comrade Keg. Have you tried the sausages at Joe S. Sausage?

                      1. re: ninrn

                        No, what or where is it? I go to the Alpine Sausage House in Albuquerque.

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Joe is this guy in Albuquerque who used to be a chemist or something and now hand-makes sausage in the North Valley. His house/shop is at the SE corner of Rio Grande and Griegos.

                          Here are a review link and a link to his website: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/60/153447...

                          He also makes ravioli and, I think, sometimes pierogi, too.

                          1. re: ninrn

                            THANKS, A LOT! I was going to take my sausage makin supplies back to NM this Aug.

                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              You're welcome. I'm taking my Dad next week. He's all excited about the lamb sausage.

                    3. I got hooked on the carnitas at the WF in LaJolla. just what carnitas should be like. some pieces were caramelized from cooking and it tasted perfect. so i went back to my WF in Pasadena looking for it and not a chance.

                      however, my local WF seems to have a whole lot more in general compared too most; wine bar; grill; pizza; asian noodle/rice bowl made to order; pho bar; indian food; smoked bbq; gigantic cheese section; chinese food; sandwich deli; sushi made to order; massive wine selection; gelato; juice bar; a whole isle for beer; fish fry/grill; local organic produce etc. If you ever watch Top Chef Masters the WF they go to is the one.

                      it's a tough one to match since i think it's the west coast WF flagship store. I once went to Denver area and was surprised how small the WF were and almost bad compared to the one's in CA. The deli foods were old and it was almost bad. if the denver WF's were the only stores i had gone to in my life, i certainly would feel very different about the chain.

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          I saw this recently. Try parking at the mothership in Austin.

                          1. re: agoodbite

                            I have, but it was a few years ago, and wasn't too bad. I was the first WF I was ever in, I was visiting my daughter who was at TU. I walked out empty handed. I felt I'd rather shop at H.E.B. and give her the savings, or more honestly, spend it at La Fonda San Miguel.

                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              Smart decisions all the way around. Every time I go (not often) I'm astounded that such a massive space contains so much (mostly) mediocre goods at such outrageous prices. The WFM of today bears no resemblance to the funky, relatively small and hospitable store it was in the beginning.

                              I now have so many other cost-effective options, I choose not to spend my money there if at all possible.