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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Whole Foods Talking with Street-Food Vendors to Develop New 'Street Eats' Line

Posted By on Wed, Jun 9, 2010 at 2:48 PM

click to enlarge Whole Foods has approached a few local vendors, including Curtis Kimball of Crème Brûlée Cart. - TAMARA PALMER
  • Tamara Palmer
  • Whole Foods has approached a few local vendors, including Curtis Kimball of Crème Brûlée Cart.
How do you know when Bay Area street food is hot? When Whole Foods takes notice. In the past few weeks, Emeryville-based Harvindar Singh, Northern California forager for Whole Foods Market, has approached a handful of local street-food vendors in hopes of developing a line of products to sell at area stores.

Singh told us he'd like to develop a line of foods called Street Eats to sell either from grab-and-go perishable fridge cases, or as nonperishable, shelf-stable items, in some of the 30 Whole Foods stores in Northern California. Singh recently met with Crème Brûlée Cart's Curtis Kimball and his brother, Magic Curry Kart's Brian Kimball. Singh has also sat down with Jon Kosorek of East Bay cart Jon's Street Eats about developing a salad dressing.

"The street-food movement is very hot right now, and they've got some great products," Singh said.

click to enlarge Harvindar Singh. - ARIEL ZAMBELICH/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
  • Ariel Zambelich/The Wall Street Journal
  • Harvindar Singh.
But selling to Whole Foods means more than dropping off a few trays of crème brulee at the loading dock. It means tweaking ― or substantially re-engineering ― products to meet the company's guidelines for sourcing and packaging. "They have to feel ready and capable of doing this," Singh said of the vendors. "This is a whole new business for them. I'd want to make sure they have the volume and know how to do business at this level. It's a partnership."

Following Whole Foods' sourcing guidelines would mean using cage-free eggs and hormone-free milk. New packaging would have to carry UPC codes, and, ideally be made of recyclable or compostable materials. Singh said the vendors also met with one of the company's prepared-foods coordinators, who offered to hook them up with Whole Foods-approved suppliers, and more. "If one of the street-food vendors needed financing, we could help them," Singh said.

Vendors who agreed to partner with Whole Foods would most likely take baby steps to company shelves, selling at one or two city stores to start, and delivering directly, rather than dealing with distributors. S.F. empanada maker El Porteño is already selling to Whole Foods; Singh said they're being rolled out in 15 Northern California stores.

As for the vendors Singh met with recently, it's still early in the negotiation process. "We gave them their homework assignment, told them to come back to us with sort of a final product." But, he said, there's no timeline for rolling out Street Eats. "They have to feel ready and capable of doing this," he said. "I don't want to pressure them." And Singh noted he's open to talking with other street-food vendors, too.

"Tell them they can e-mail me," he said. "You have my e-mail, right?" We do:

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