Whole Foods goes the whole hog with new Piccadilly store
Now I was already a Whole Foods fan, but the opening of its new store in Piccadilly Circus this week has only served to deepen my love further.
From the moment you walk into the store you are presented with a superior shopping experience. It is so much more than aisles, freezer units and 3for2s. The in-store theatre is fantastic – fresh pizza made in front of you; gorgeous smells tempting you left, right and centre; smiling staff offering you delicious samples of organic cheese, chocolate, cake. You name it, Whole Foods has got it, offering a sensory experience and pure celebration of food that the majority of supermarkets lack.
Whole Foods has achieved its winning formula by stocking a huge range of brands and products often very difficult to get hold of elsewhere and taking a fresh approach to the grocery shopping process, setting its stores out like a posh food market and designing each store from scratch. In doing so, the brand demonstrates its commitment to stocking locally sourced produce. For example, the Piccadilly store is stocking local, much-loved London brands including Neal’s Yard Dairy, Monmouth Coffee (a Borough Market favourite), specialist breads and pastry from Clerkenwell-based St John Bakery and vegan, wheat and soya free cupcakes from Cat and the Cream Bakery in Battersea. The Piccadilly store even has its own wrap named after it - ‘Piccadilly Piccalilly’. This heavily tailored approach is so refreshing. It’s great to see a big US retailer giving small UK brands great business opportunities and creating positive mutual relationships in the process.
What’s more, when I visited this week, the Piccadilly store was absolutely packed with customers and there was a genuine vibe of excitement. This excitement isn’t exclusive to London either. As one resident of Wilmington in North Carolina put it when attending the opening of Wilmington’s store, it’s "Like going to the state fair." The Piccadilly store also has great strategies for encouraging people to spend time in the store. There is a seating area upstairs perfectly positioned for people watching, complete with free WiFi, so you could quite easily spend a few hours there.
There is a price to pay for all that Whole Foods offers though: a lighter wallet. A small box of salad (albeit carefully selected from one of the best salads bars I’ve ever seen) came to £7. Not exactly austerity prices. But people will obviously pay it.
Overall, the Piccadilly store looks set to be a massive success. It joins the list of other London stores in Kensington, Clapham, Stoke Newington and Camden and the company has further plans to open stores in Cheltenham, Fulham and Richmond in 2012/ 2013.
Whole Foods’ huge success in the US is down to the fact it’s not just another supermarket. It looks like UK consumers are glad it’s brought its unique formula to our shores.
So what is the message for other retailers?
At a time when price is a commodity and even supermarket giants are taking a knocking, retail theatre and genuine personality are powerful tools that must not be underestimated.