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Whole Foods: A place to hang out

A look inside Whole Foods Chicago

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Whole Foods Market is the place where the organic- and higher-end food inclined go to get their fix. It's not a surprise that sales have suffered during the recession. Shoppers aren't doing so much . . . shopping. But Whole Foods continues to expand. It's opened six stores already this year. And today in Chicago, it's debuting a massive flagship store. From Chicago Public Radio, Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: Most grocery shopping is pretty straight forward. You grab some milk, pick up a box of cereal, maybe some bananas. But at this new Whole Foods, it's hard to stay focused on your shopping list. The store is an enormous three-floor structure, filled with natural light from windows that run the height of the building.

Kate Klotz: We kind of envision this as a meeting place, a place where people can hang out.

That's Whole Foods spokesperson Kate Klotz. When you enter the store, the produce section is to your right. To your left is a bar.

Klotz: In the day it'll be a coffee bar and in the afternoon it will transition to a local beer and wine bar.

You can actually tote your pint around while you shop.

There's a full food court. You can eat lunch sitting next to the Chicago River. There's even a place to dock your kayak. The experience is part of what Whole Foods is hoping will get people to come in the doors.

Neil Stern is a retail researcher for McMillian Doolittle:

Neil Stern: The coffee bars and the sushi bars and the wine bars and the places to sit and eat have all sort of grown entertainment retailing into the mix. And Whole Foods is one of the masters of doing that.

But he says Whole Foods has to do more than just be a "fun" place to shop. Especially in a recession, Whole Foods has to convince customers it doesn't deserve the nickname: "Whole Paycheck."

Stern: So it is more expensive. And if push comes to shove in an environment where you simply don't have the money, I think consumers are having to make that trade down.

The grocery chain has been working on the cost angle by pushing its cheaper private label brands. It's also trying to explain why natural and organic food costs more. And reminding shoppers that it sells more than gourmet truffles.

In Chicago, I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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I love the Whole Foods store that moved into Milwaukee a few years ago. It is a bright, clean and delightful place to shop. The quality of merchandise is consitantly excellent. I go out of my way to shop at Whole foods twice a month. Their prices and product selction are far better than the other smaller natural and organic food stores in the area.

Drinking a pint and shopping! What a country! Can there be a anything more American than this?

Whole Foods - Let me begin with the fact that I love everything about this place!

While the "whole paycheck" nickname is very cute, it is not very true in my experience. It seems to me that if organic food options, items like milk, eggs, tofu, grass fed beef, cereal and other healthy options are important for you - you simply can't beat the prices of Whole Foods (WF)! I make a weekly trip to WF to buy some specifics that are significantly cheaper that my local Safeway or Harris Teeter (HT). Yes really, cheaper!

Examples:
Organic Valley Whole Milk 1/2 Gallon
WF: $3.69
HT: $4.99

Nature's Path Optimum Cereal
WF: $2.99
HT: $3.99

Stoneyfield Organic Yogurt
WF: $3.69
HT: $4.59

Tofu
WF: $1.99
HT: $3.59

Those are just a few of the staple items that we enjoy and are able to save dollars by purchasing at Whole Foods, rather than at another grocer. The price difference is an asounding "whole dollar" per item! The quality of the food that I put into my body is important to me and if I can save money doing it, then I am thrilled!

Whole Foods. My best friend fleshes out the insides of the stores. Builds the shelves and such. I traveled with him to England to build a store. I am not a big fan of Whole Food. My first experience with them was annoying; a lecture on money being filthy. So why sell things if the means of exchange are so dirty?

Whole paycheck fits my picture of the chain. I shop at smaller stores like Sun Harvest. Less hype and just food and it is cheaper.

Whole Food headquarters is here in Austin and I remember the guys from the hippie days and how they changed from nice guys into money grubbers. The Coop here never grew to international status but is much more friendly.

Even Fiesta is more fun to shop. All the immigrants buying their light beer and tortillas is entertaining and the staff will get you a jar of quince jam if you ask.

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