Whole Foods emerges as leader in shop-local, eat-local trend

2013-01-20T00:00:00Z Whole Foods emerges as leader in shop-local, eat-local trendAngela Pittenger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The trend to shop local is no longer just for farmers markets.

Now grocery chains are getting in on it.

Safeway, Albertsons, Walmart and Sprouts all carry El Parador salsa.

Tucson Tamale Co.'s products can be found at AJ's Fine Foods, Sprouts and Whole Foods Market.

Costco sells products from Apple Annie's in Willcox.

The new Whole Foods at 5555 E. River Road is upping the ante by offering coffee, produce and beer from 43 Southern Arizona bakers, farms and breweries.

Not too long ago, it was almost unheard of to see small local vendors at chain stores.

"It used to be a rule of thumb that major chain stores would want to sell the same products at every store," said food-industry analyst Phil Lempert. "The small manufacturer couldn't just make its product for one store. But now there is more customization due to different neighborhoods having different needs."

For example, Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.'s products are available at Walmart, Bashas', Food City, Safeway and Fry's Food Stores in heavily Hispanic parts of town.

"Obviously, the best place to have your product is where there is strong demand," said Jean England Neubauer, owner of the Tumacácori-based spice company.

Even so, it's still tough for vendors to get their goods into major chains, said David Rogers, president of DSR Marketing Systems Inc., which specializes in retail research.

Rogers sees the tradition of major grocery manufacturers paying for shelf space as a "long-standing weakness of the U.S. supermarket industry." He said there is too much focus on the manufacturers and distributors and too little on the consumers."

Goal: 20% local

Both Rogers and Lempert see Whole Foods as a leader in the trend to supply local and small vendors.

The company's goal is to source 20 percent of its products from local producers, Whole Foods spokesperson Evan Sullivan said.

Lempert said the rise of farmers markets brought with it the realization, especially with produce items, that the closer you are to where something is grown, the more nutritious and flavorful it is.

"Retailers started observing that and wanted local products," he said.

Some chains, such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's, employ "foragers," or scouts, to go out and find products that match the store's criteria and consumers' demands.

Scott Gilliland, owner of Adventure Coffee Roasting, said he was approached by a Whole Foods scout, who sampled his product at the St. Philip's Farmers Market and invited him to sell his coffee at the store. His coffee went onto Whole Foods' shelves more than three years ago and is now available in all of its Tucson stores.

A Sense of Community

Darcy Landis, forager for Whole Foods Market, finds products at farmers markets, mom-and-pop shops and from vendors who approach her.

She said the products she picks are a "collaboration with the community." For example, she said, if a customer asks why a store doesn't sell "local pickles," she will go out and find a local vendor selling pickles.

"I want to see local supported in every way that it can be," she said.

Gilliland said having his coffee available at the grocery store makes it more convenient for his customers.

"If they can't get to the farmers market, they can now get it at Whole Foods," he said.

Dragoon Brewing, a small Tucson brewery, was also hand-selected by Whole Foods Market.

"The move to buying local is awesome, and it's a huge boon to our business," said Tristan White, owner of the brewery.

Shopping local boosts the economy and gives consumers a sense of community, which is often lacking in the digital age, Adventure Coffee's Gilliland said. Local vendors visit the stores to share samples and meet their customers.

"There was a time when you knew where your food was coming from because you knew the people," Gilliland said. "It's not like that anymore, but it can be."

Local offerings, national store

Here are some of the local vendors with products at the new Whole Foods Market, 5555 E. River Road:

• Produce: Blue Sky, Sunizona, Briggs & Eggers, Dwight English, Wholesum Harvest, Willcox Greenhouse, Armistead Family Farm, Tucson Urban Firewood.

• Prepared foods: Indigenous Nutrition, Alejandro's Tortilla Chips, Cheri's Desert Harvest, Grandma Koyotes BBQ, Popcorn Country, Tucson Tamale Company, Vivapura, Adobe Rose Inn, Dr. Hummus.

• Baked goods: Adventure Coffee Roasting, Arbuckle Coffee, Mediterra Bakehouse, Small Planet Bakery, Alpine Bakery, Firecreek Coffee, Honeymoon Sweets.

• Specialty foods: Arizona Cheese Company, Black Mesa Ranch, Gina's Homemade.

• Meat: Arizona Rub.

Source: Whole Foods Market

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at 573-4137 or apitteng@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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