By Alyssa Evans
Local grocery stores are currently having to compete now more than ever due to a new organic grocery chain entering the area.
Whole Foods Market opened its new Bellingham store on Wednesday, May 11 after almost a year of preparation. The new store is the first Whole Foods in Whatcom County.
“Whole Foods Market is a company that really cares about making a difference in every community where we do business,” Susan Livingston, executive marketing coordinator for Whole Foods, said. “Bellingham [is] no exception to that.”
Not everyone is convinced that Whole Foods entering Bellingham is the right choice. With multiple options for buying organic foods in Bellingham, such as Fred Meyer, Haggen and Terra Organic & Natural Foods, the presence of the store is being questioned by some in the community.
Edgemoor resident Laura Widman prefers to get her groceries from Terra, the Community Food Co-op and local farms. She said her elderly parents were negatively affected by a different Whole Foods store in their community, which has impacted Widman’s opinion of the chain.
“When a Whole Foods moved into their neighborhood, they thought they were buying organic food,” Widman said. “When I looked at everything they bought there wasn’t one piece of organic produce. It’s deceptive. I feel sad for my parents because they wanted to do the right thing and they’re just getting tricked.”
Widman is concerned that the opening of Whole Foods will have effect on the Bellingham community as it did on her parents.
“I love the co-op [and] Terra. I love the fact that they built up a relationship with the local farms for years and Whole Foods is exploiting that work that has already been done,” Widman said. “I would hate to see local grocers getting put out of business by a corporate conglomerate.”
South Hill resident Rainbow Koehl was surprised to learn that Whole Foods was coming to Bellingham.
“It feels like the grocery store market is pretty well saturated to me,” Koehl said. “I know there’s quite a bit of Canadian traffic, but with the dollar being what it is right now, I think it’s tapered off a fair bit and I know groceries are still less expensive for them.”
Koehl thinks the organic food market is well settled and that she doesn’t plan on shopping at Whole Foods due to its prices.
“There’s a reason it’s called ‘whole paycheck.’ I went in there for the first time a couple days ago just to walk around and I didn’t buy anything because everything there is more expensive. I’m pretty well versed in what prices are, along with quality,” Koehl said. “I’d see some of the exact things [in Whole Foods] I see elsewhere for more.”
“I look forward to talking with Whole Foods. They are known to really contribute to communities. All of the grocers in this town do a good job of that.”
Anne Poulson, Maple Alley Inn coordinator for the Opportunity Council
Whole Foods is a decentralized company, meaning each manager in-store can operate their business in a way that caters to the wants and needs of local shoppers. In addition, Whole Foods hosts many events to get the community involved in ways that other grocers don’t, Whole Foods coordinator Livingston said. The store donates 5 percent of its sales to local organizations, such as food banks or farmer’s markets.
“A lot of times, communities become concerned when a Whole Foods Market comes into a community that has a thriving farmer’s market, a co-op or other natural, organic groceries; people who care a lot about food and sell on a smaller scale than we do,” Livingston said. “There’s a lot of data that shows when we come to the market they actually see a growth in their business because people become more aware of the product categories that are available.”
The Community Food Co-op has been preparing for the opening of a store like Whole Foods for years, Co-op outreach manager Adrienne Renz said. Recently, they prepared for the entrance of the new Whole Foods by building a bakery, adjusting the parking lot and a restructure of the downtown store.
“We always [factor] in there will be another natural foods competitor entering the market,” Renz said. “There’s a number of them that are popular around the country, so it was just a matter of which one it would be.”
Since the opening of Whole Foods, the co-op hasn’t seen much of a change in sales. There has been a little dip, but not as much as they expected, Renz said.
“Everybody who supports the co-op and Terra, [we want them] to keep coming to us. It’s people supporting our businesses that let us do the stuff we do,” Renz said.
Anne Poulson, Maple Alley Inn coordinator for the Opportunity Council, an organization helping citizens in need, works to serve the community a meal three times a week, every week.
“In a nutshell, it’s a hot meal program that’s called a non-requirement meal program which means we serve anyone who walks in the door,” Poulson said. “We serve a breakfast Tuesday mornings out of St. Paul’s Church as well as a lunch Wednesdays and Thursdays at Faith Lutheran Church.”
Poulson hopes to collaborate with the store.
“I look forward to talking with Whole Foods,” Poulson said. “They are known to really contribute to communities. All of the grocers in this town do a good job of that.”