For proof that organic foods are becoming big business, you need look no further than the new Whole Foods store, scheduled to open July 3 at the corner of Franklin and California (in an old Ellis Brooks car dealership).
Whole Foods is a Texas-based corporation, and like most things Texas, it tends toward the outsized. The store will offer a “depth of selection” far greater than such locally owned concerns as the Real Food Co. and Rainbow Grocery, according to David Lannon, store “team leader” in San Francisco. It will also have a lot of free parking — a major consideration in the company's selection of sites, he says.
“Everybody goes to where they can get free parking,” Lannon says. “If you're coming out of a supermarket with four to six bags, you're going to have a hard time riding the bus.”
Whole Foods really is a supermarket. Along with the organic produce (80 percent of it grown in California), the store will offer a full selection of meat, fish, and poultry, including Oregon Country Beef, from humanely raised and naturally fed cattle.
Yes, but will it be cheap? Hardly.
“We're never going to be the cheapest store,” Lannon concedes, but he thinks that Whole Foods will be “competitive.” And because the target clientele are affluent and college-educated professionals — “with a stronger understanding of organics, their environmental and health benefits” — the higher prices won't necessarily discourage sales.
The company has been operating in the Bay Area since 1986, when it opened in Palo Alto. Whole Foods markets in Mill Valley and Berkeley already draw substantial numbers of shoppers from the city (10 percent of Mill Valley's total volume comes from San Franciscans), and Lannon thinks that eventually there will be “two or three” outlets in the city alone.
That's assuming there isn't some kind of anti-chain reaction in a city that's not too fond of corporations, chains, and outsiders — let alone all three in one endeavor. Lannon thinks the local populist xenophobia is “not necessarily a problem” for Whole Foods because “the company is decentralized” and the new store “will reflect San Francisco.”
For instance, “we've kept the building the way it looked outside,” Lannon says, “with that art deco touch.”
What may finally matter more is what's inside — especially the selection of prepared foods designed to appeal to a health-conscious, well-off population in a hurry. Those in search of quality carryout can choose among a sushi bar, a polenta-and-risotto bar, a panini bar, and a burrito bar, among others. Without fear of parking tickets.
By Paul Reidinger