March 11, 2005

Changing The Grocery Shopping Experience

Whole Foods, the grocery chain that's all about healthy eating and an appealing shopping experience, is about to take its stores to a new level: shopping as entertainment.

"[Company] executives believe that the ideas in the store — which is broken up into enticing, food-centric lands, à la Disney — could have the kind of industry-shaking impact on grocery shopping that Starbucks has had on coffee drinking," USA Today reports. "Whole Foods could help transform grocery shopping into interactive theater.

" 'Americans love to eat. And Americans love to shop. But we don't like to shop for food. It's a chore, like doing laundry,' laments John Mackey, 51, the sneaker-and-jeans-wearing founder of Whole Foods. 'Whole Foods thinks shopping should be fun. With this store, we're pioneering a new lifestyle that synthesizes health and pleasure. We don't see a contradiction.' "

At its new 80,000-square-foot flagship store in Austin, that means things like "Candy Island," where shoppers can dip fruit into a choclate fountain; "Lamar Street Greens, where you can sit among the organic produce and have a salad handmade for you to enjoy with a glass of Chardonnay; Fifth Street Seafood, a version of Seattle's Pike Place Market, where you can have any of 150 fresh seafood items cooked, sliced, smoked or fried for instant eating; and Whole Body, where a massage therapist will work the kinks out with a 25-minute deep-tissue massage for $50. "

People may laugh at that kind of upscale grocery concept, but the idea of trying to make shoppers enjoy food shopping the way they like going to the mall is an intriguing one. And when the company is averaging twice as many sales per square foot as the industry average, others in the food business take note.

A key question I have, though: As the company starts building what may be "big box" grocery stores, will it make sure to site its stores in a healthy-lifestyle sort of way -- walker-friendly and not just auto-centric?

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