Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Fresh Look at Wellesley's Whole Foods Market

Most Wellesley residents didn’t become successful by making haphazard decisions about anything, not even something as commonplace as grocery shopping. For months, speculation, excitement and controversy has surrounded the new Whole Foods Market location. Final preparations are underway and on Monday, shoppers will get to experience the new store for themselves.

The expansion of Whole Foods in Wellesley points to an interesting dynamic at work.  According to Whole Foods Market, their “business is intimately tied to the neighborhood and larger community that we serve and in which we live.” The new expanded store will compete with Roche Bros. which is headquartered in Wellesley. Anyone who has spent any amount of town in Wellesley knows that Roche Bros. is a well-entrenched part of the social landscape. Been to a child’s birthday party? A Roche Bros. cake is almost certain to have been served. So how does Whole Foods intend to serve the community when its new store hopes to lure shoppers away from the longtime hometown grocer?

With a local flair
Taking cues from the old store and what’s worked at other regional stores, the product mix at the new store will reflect local preferences and demands. The store will host local purveyors of goods in a unique outdoor space intended as a seasonal farmer’s market and will continue sourcing from local producers throughout the year. The space that was formerly Tian Fu has been converted to a Community room complete with a demo kitchen which will be available to non-profits and cooking groups. To meet the need of the education-minded Wellesley consumer, the new store will be home to a “Cooking at Wellesley” specialist who will guide newcomers as they explore the bulk foods section. Shoppers who inquire can take a store tour with team members who will share tips for how to find the best values in the store based on the individual's needs and preferences.  Many of those team members will be familiar faces from the existing Wellesley store joined by new transfers from around the region.

Convenience served up
The new store has features that may appeal to the typical Wellesley shopper looking for convenience. There are extensive options for prepared food options ranging from the antipasti bar, wood fired pizzas, gourmet deli, taqueria and a full line of ‘grab and go’ foods. All of these options take convenience one step further by helping health-conscious consumers make smarter choices. Prevalent throughout the store and in the prepared foods, standards are in place guiding the products the store carries. Shoppers won’t find items with artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, hydrogenated fats or a host of unsightly ingredients. Convenience does come with limits however. For the consumer who has Diet Coke on their weekly list, Whole Foods may not be the place for one stop shopping. And unlike Roche Bros and Super Stop and Shop, Whole Foods doesn’t offer grocery delivery.

Gourmet options
The store has several premium features aimed squarely at competing with the town’s local specialty retailers. Toward the rear of the store is a case filled with dry-aged steaks and premium cuts that could replace a stop at John Dewar & Co. Pigeon Cove fish and seafood fires a shot over Captain Marden’s bow and the Fromagerie and Charcuterie gives the Cheese Shop a run for its money. While prepared foods are definitely a focus of the store, chef-worthy raw ingredients can be found in the aisles too.

Store features
While the new store is technically a remodel of the former Star Market, there is little reminiscent of the old space. The new building has received a Green Globes certification assuring that it was built with sustainability in mind. The inside features slate and concrete floors, reclaimed wood, recycled materials and LED lights, which all contribute to the unique aesthetic found in their newer stores. Signage is quirky and abundant with personal, hand-written flourishes throughout. The overall feel of the store reflects how you want your groceries -- fresh, vibrant and clean.

In the redesign of the building, a walk up window was added where customers will be able to approach from the outside and order takeaway items like gelato and made to order coffee. A small café seating area will make dining-in an option too.

While the old location had the character of the original Bread & Circus, the new building offers space for many more products. The new store isn’t nearly the size and scope of the Dedham flagship store but it is a far cry from the tightly packed shopping experience of late. Almost as notable is the much improved parking experience with more than 200 spaces in a dedicated lot.
Check it out for yourself
More than 1000 previewers are expected at the new 442 Washington Street location for Friday’s “sneak preview.” Registered attendees can participate with a $5 donation to the Wellesley Food Pantry. Frequent shoppers at the old location should say their goodbyes this weekend as the store will be closing Sunday night for the last time. The Grand opening begins with a 7:30am bread breaking ceremony (coffee, anyone?) followed by the official opening at 8am on Monday, August 22nd.

Whole Foods Market Wellesley
442 Washington Street
Wellesley, MA
Hours: 8 am - 9 pm daily (except holidays)
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Further Reading from the Wellesley Wine Press:
Inside the Bread: Whole Foods to Open New Location in Wellesley
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