Whole Foods on lookout for emerging brands

April 20, 2011
A woman shops at a Whole Foods supermarket in New York. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A woman shops at a Whole Foods supermarket in New York. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Got the next great organic food product? Wondering how to get it into your local Whole Foods store? Then Tom Rich is the guy to talk to.

Rich is the grocery coordinator for the 27-store Rocky Mountain region of the Austin, Texas-based supermarket chain. He works in the health-oriented, food-centric city of Boulder, Colorado, where the company’s recently expanded Pearl Street store is considered a rich testing ground for new concepts.

“Part of the responsibility in our position is to find new, emerging brands,” Rich said. “We’re trying to build our bullpen. We’re tasked to do that here.”

He gives two examples of concepts that began in Boulder and were subsequently given national treatment throughout Whole Foods’ 300-store network: all-natural nut butter producer Justin’s and flatbread and burrito bowl maker EVOL.

“If you saw my office, I have 100 products in here that I’m in the midst of tasting and trying,” he said.

The company typically works with manufacturers to ready them for the sharp boost in resources required to go national, including significant increases to production and staffing.

Says Rich: “We’re constantly trying to do that. It’s the favorite part of my job, meeting people, learning about their product, and kind of seeing where we think they can go.”

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