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Archive for March 2007

More Goo in the Organic Poo

Originally published on indyrats.com. 

Whole Foods is coming to town, what’s going to happen and when?

That’s been on our minds for the past few months. 

Cards on the table, prior to Indy, I lived in Ann Arbor Michigan. I emailed Whole Food’s corporate folks to find out if/when they would have a store in Indianapolis. They emailed back, assuring me that plans were underway 

Now you know how shallow I am. I make life decisions based on the quality of grocery store options.  

That email was 1999, the Indy store was supposed to be operational by 2001.  

It’s now 2007. Hurdles cleared with the neighborhood association, Whole Foods announced a 2008 timeline for opening a megastore at 86th and Haverstick. 

The plot thickens. Whole Foods is buying Wild Oats, so we’ll have three Whole Foods stores. Really? 

Saturday’s Indianapolis Star reported another twist in this tale. According to Dan McFeely:

 A Northside community group is appealing a city planning agency’s decision to ignore certain zoning commitments made more than a decade ago on a hot corner property being developed as a Whole Foods Market.The land, at 86th Street and Haverstick Road, was the subject of a lengthy battle in 1995, at which time the city struck a deal with neighborhood activists that would force developers to meet certain requirements — such as preserving trees, using brick for exterior walls and erecting a wrought-iron fence.

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The Board of Zoning Appeals hearing to appeal the director’s decision is set for April 10, but Hayes believes it will likely be continued. 

It’s hard to tell how this will sort out. I have no crystal ball, or inside trader information, but I witnessed Whole Foods’ buyout of a small chain. It wasn’t pretty, resulting in bitterness and ill-will toward the corporate giant.  What happened in Ann Arbor may help us understand what’s going to happen here. 

Ann Arbor is a small city (population around 100,000) highly educated, affluent and well traveled. It is home to one of Whole Foods’ most successful stores. It was also the home of Merchant of Vino, premier merchandisers of wine and specialty food items in Southeast Michigan. 

Whole Foods was vegetarian, vegan; Merchant of Vino was wine, pate and terrines. Whole Foods was “New Ann Arbor,” Merchant-of-Vino’s was “Old Ann Arbor.” Whole Foods was young couples and kooky old ladies; Merchant of Vino’s was old money. Whole Foods shoppers cared about the environment; Merchant of Vino’s customers cared about preparing elaborate meals, clinging to their copies of Craig Claiborne, James Beard and Julia Child cookbooks. 

November, 1997 Whole Foods announced they were purchasing the Merchant of Vino mini-chain.

Starting with a single party store in suburban Detroit, the Jonnas built a highly successful wine business. But when they took over the former Showerman’s IGA in 1992, they expanded to a whole new level, inviting other merchants to build on their base of wine and gourmet items with fresh produce, meat, and prepared foods. (Arborfoods) 

Prior to the sale, the owners rid themselves of small vendors whose products were loved and cherished by customers and were a cornerstone of the store’s appeal.

Worse was yet to come.  

Whole Foods cleaned up the place. Merchant of Vino’s had the look and feel of Atlas, only bigger and a brighter. Wine and food were interspersed, wine on the right, food on the left. You’d rifle through the Spanish reds, turn around and spot some food item you’d eaten in Barcelona and didn’t know anyone in the States carried it.  

Whole Foods came in, put all the wine in one section (and organized them, ruining the fun of sorting through the chaos to find your special treasure). They cleaned out the store of one-of-a-kind European delicacies and put in healthy foods.  

That wasn’t the end of the carnage. The delectable deli, glistening with pates, terrines, fresh buffalo mozzarella was bulldozed. In its place were Whole Foods icky, grainy, vinegary green-green-lima-bean salads. Merchant’s clientele were upscale, red-meat Republicans who didn’t cotton to such fare. 

Whole Foods, a benevolent employer, kept employees, but the best soon left.  

The corporate giant was never able to instill life after the massacre. A store once filled with shoppers was empty; a parking lot so crowded it was dangerous was still.  

At the time of the acquisition, there were plans to build another Merchant of Vino/Whole Foods which meant there would be three Whole Foods stores in Ann Arbor.

Arborites, a skeptical lot, questioned whether such a plan was overkill.

At Whole Foods, however, people are thinking positive. “At this time, we’re planning to open and maintain all three stores,” says Whole Foods Chicago-Metro marketing director Alison Williams. (Arborfood)

Whole Foods did a quick turn around and by July, 1998

marketing director Susan Bellinson says that although nothing has been finalized, it looks as though plans for the Stadium store have fallen through. “We have had a research team look at how viable it would be for Ann Arbor to support three stores,” she says. “And it’s questionable. We don’t know yet how we’re going to proceed, but we don’t want to mislead people into thinking we’re opening a new store when in fact we may not.”

Bellinson couldn’t say whether public opinion was a factor in Whole Foods’ decision, but a source inside the Merchant of Vino/Whole Foods Market operation on Plymouth Road says that Whole Foods management has been dismayed by the Ann Arbor community’s negative reaction to the purchase of the Merchant of Vino stores. “They say, `Geez, we’ve never seen anything like this. Why are people so down on us?’ “according to this source.

(Laura McReynolds Arborfood) 

Today, Merchant of Vino/Whole Food Market on Plymouth Road and the original Lamp Light Plaza Whole Foods are gone, replaced by a megawonder just down the road. 

In the end, Ann Arbor was left with one Whole Foods store. It’s bigger, but it’s just more of the same stuff. Whole Foods gained wine expertise and key locations in toney Detroit suburbs; Arborites lost panache and consumer choice.

As in any good soap opera, the plot twists and the dead come back to life. The Jonna’s, original owners of  Merchant of Vino,  five-year noncompete clause is up. Last week they opened Plum Market in Bloomfield Township and are opening two more stores, one in Royal Oak, one in Ann Arbor.

Plum Market stocks most items found in a traditional supermarket: produce, a large wine selection, fresh fish, meats, dairy products, carry-out food, health and beauty products, frozen foods, paper products, specialty chocolates and even imported, long-stemmed roses at $19.95 a dozen.

Joel J. Smith, Detroit-News, March 8, 2007 

One of my customers teaches business strategy at IUPUI and we talked about what Whole Foods is going to do here. He says Whole Foods bought Wild Oats for their locations. If the locations compete, somebody goes. 

My prediction? Like Ann Arbor, we’ll end up with one store.

Informaton for this article came from an Arborfood article,

http://www.arborfood.com/columns/changes/whole-vino.shtml

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007703080352

You can find out about Plum Market at their website, http://www.plummarket.com

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Written by Susan Gillie

March 26, 2007 at 1:09 am

Good News, Bad News

Originally posted on indyrats.com.

Good news, bad news for Indy food shoppers.

The bad news? I.Farm (Indiana Farmers Retail Market) will not be opening at City Market this summer. According to Stanley Poe, sheep purveyor and president of I.Farm, the cooperative declined the City Market lease.

Now the good news. I.Farm is still opening a store. The timeline has changed, but they’re on track. They continue seeking members, reviewing possible locations and hiring a General Manager this fall. Spring 2008 is the new date for the store’s opening.

Bad timing is the reason for the delay. Farm produce follows the seasons; opening mid-summer doesn’t allow the farmers to build momentum with a full spectrum of their harvest.

City Market is still a possible location if space is available.

Thanks to reader, Charles Hanon, for notifying us of this story. You can read his comment in the original column.

Written by Susan Gillie

March 23, 2007 at 1:06 am

Coming to Our Neighborhood Soon

Originally puvlished on indyrats.com, March 9, 2007

Fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy products, lamb, beef, chicken and pork raised on small, local farms will soon be available to Indy residents. 

It’s not another farmer’s market open on certain days at certain hours and certain times of the year. It’s a real food store, open six days a week. We know Whole Foods is coming soon, but this isn’t Whole Foods, and it isn’t in Carmel, or Castleton or Zionsville or any other upscale, north-side suburban location.  

It’s going to be smack-dab in the middle of the city. 

By mid-June of this year, I.Farm will open in the renovated Indianapolis City Market.

 “I.Farm is an Indiana Farmers’ Cooperative that will operate a six-day a week, 10-hour per day food store at the Indianapolis City Market ….(I.Farm is an acronym for Indiana Farmers’ Retail Market). I. Farm will sell the food and food-related goods of its membership. Members will share both profits and the operating expenses, including a staff to sell I.Farm goods. This frees up I.Farm members to do what they do best: produce food.”

I.Farm Factsheet 2007 

Food cooperatives are not new. Bloomington and Fort Wayne have well-established grocery coops with loyal customer bases. I.Farm’s uniqueness is that they are owned  by farmers and producers, not consumers. According to Daina Chamness, Membership Coordinator for I.Farm, there is no business model in the U.S. quite like I.Farm’s. 

This is how it works. Grower/producers apply to become members, applications are reviewed, and those who meet quality and demand standards, are approved for coop membership. Members must invest $1,000 for a one-time share of Common Stock, putting them on equal footing with all other members to set store prices, policies and business decisions. Only grower/producers who are members of the coop can sell their goods to the store. 

Right now I.Farm’s focus is on hiring a General Manager and recruiting members. Informational meetings are scheduled for late March and early April.  

City Market has had a weekly farmer’s market for many years. Starting this spring, the outdoor market will be held on Saturdays instead Wednesdays and I.Farm members are entitled to a space at the market as part of their membership. 

Commodity farming results in a glut of cheap food. It’s also squeezes out small farmers, lowers food quality and restricts consumer choices. I.Farm’s business model is structured to provide small and mid-sized farmers with the opportunity to receive a high percentage of the consumer dollar for their products, thus encouraging their continued existence. The store purchases products from members based upon projected and actual demand for goods. Members and the store manager arrive at the retail price and members receive 60% of retail price 

Downtown residents know how much need there is for grocery options, but will it work?  

I.Farm is the centerpiece of the 1.8 million renovation of Indianapolis City Market. Established grower/producers who’ve been at the outdoor Farmer’s Market for many years are spearheading the endeavor. Chad Martin of Indiana Cooperative Development Center has been with I.Farm every step of the way. EBT (electronic benefit transfers) for Food Stamp Program and WIC participants will be accepted, thus ensuring an expanded market. 

The new City Market will have a demonstration kitchen where consumers can learn new recipes and techniques. According to Susan Miller of Hickman & Associates, Clark Appliances will host the demonstrations. The city of Indianapolis and the Lilly Endowment have committed considerable resources to researching and focus-grouping to make sure that I.Farm and the new Market succeed. 

Marketing and glitz, renovation, redesign and redecorating help support the new direction of City Market. Success results from some simple factors. Does the food taste really, really good, making it worth the time to buy, cook and eat it?  Are the employees friendly and helpful? Is the experience fun? Do I feel welcome? Do I want to go back?   

Time will tell.

An information sheet follows this article. We’ll bring you progress updates as the store nears the opening date.

Written by Susan Gillie

March 9, 2007 at 1:01 am

Indiana Farmer’s Retail Market Information Sheet

Originally published on indyrats.com.

FACT SHEET—I.FARM—Indiana Farmer’s Retail Market Upcoming informational meetings for growers/producers to learn about the coop: 

March 21           Bartholowmew County

March 28           Shelby County

April 2               Ripley County

April 4               Brown County

Meetings will be from 7-9 pm at the Extension Offices 

Officers and board of directors are made up of grower/producers who’ve been providing Farmers’ Market patrons with quality products. 

President          Stanley Poe, Poe Farms

Vice President   Constance Ferry, HobbittGardens

Secretary          John Ferree, Seldom Seen Farms

Treasurer           Scott Wilson, Wilson Farms Board

Board Members           

Brian Shuter, Heartland Beef                                   

Tia Agnew, New Day Meadery 

Contact for Information,

Membership Coordinator             

Daina Chamness  317-414-5102

Written by Susan Gillie

March 8, 2007 at 12:58 am