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Whole Foods: A place to hang out

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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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