Have you ever wandered through the ancient-grains-filled aisles of Whole Foods and thought, “Man, there needs to be a thousand percent more touchscreen, self-serve, loose-leaf tea kiosks up in here”? Of course you have! Nothing soothes your anger over inflated quinoa prices like a cup of lemongrass oolong brewed at exactly 182 degrees. Well, there’s good news on the horizon, unnecessarily specific tea drinkers: The upscale grocery chain has responded to your incessant cries with its new Millennial-facing store concept, 365 by Whole Foods Market, opening in Silver Lake on May 25.
teaBOT, a Toronto-based startup that customizes cups of tea down to the water temperature, is a part of the “friends of 365” program, which crams like-minded companies into the store to form an ethically sourced Megazord (reference for those not raised on Power Rangers) that’s fueled by youthy consumerism. Joining the futuristic tea robot will be a craft coffee and beer bar called Allegro Coffee Company and an outpost of the NYC cult hit vegan restaurant, by CHLOE.
Does sitting down to in IPA and a black bean burger while waiting for your deli order to be filled sound great? Absolutely. Does it have anything to do with 365’s stated goal of making its products more accessible? Not even a little bit. And that sucks.
When Whole Foods president Jim Sud announced the new store concept last year, he put a very clear emphasis on affordability. “There’s a perception that Whole Foods only caters to wealthy clientele, but we see customers who are very high end to those who come in and spend what looks to be their last dime,” the Orlando Business Journal quoted him as saying. “Food deserts—where there’s not a supermarket within two miles—obesity rates [are higher]. We want to be able to provide those residents access to fresh, healthy foods.”
365 president Jeff Turnas echoed that sentiment in an online hype video, “We’re going to do it in a way that will… allow us to bring fresh, healthy food to communities that we’ve not been able to with a Whole Foods store.” When the news about 365 broke, you could almost sense the lame-but-accurate nickname “Whole Paycheck” slowly fading from the public’s collective vocabulary. Who better to try and solve the food desert crisis—something that hits close to home in L.A.—than the monolithic organic grocer with the supply chains to make it happen?
Then the company revealed that the first 365 market would open in Silver Lake, which, if you had to categorize it, is more food oasis than desert. Fine. That’s cool. I mean, you have to get your feet wet before you just jump into the pool, right? You open up the first store in what’s become a poster-neighborhood for gentrification where you know it will be successful, you build up some internal confidence in the corporate team, and then—then—you go tackle America’s food insecurity problem.
But as more information about 365 gets released, the idea that they’re at all concerned with accessibility gets harder and harder to believe. The next two stores, which are the only others slated to open in 2016, will be in Bellevue and Lake Oswego, wealthy suburbs of Seattle and Portland respectively. Again, nowhere near food deserts. And as far as price is concerned, it seems the only difference is that the 365 locations won’t carry some of the more expensive labels and will instead focus on their own 365 brand products, which are already available at all Whole Foods locations.
“365 by WFM product selection will feature the 365 Everyday Value Brand® and a curated selection of other brands that align with our vision and quality standards,” Whole Foods public relations rep Janette Rizk says. “There may be some exceptions, but generally shoppers will be able to find the same high quality products at value prices at both stores.” She added that there will be a loyalty program that offers rewards and incentives. Maybe that’s their long-term plan to fix our food system.
In an (organic, fair trade) nutshell, nothing’s going to change. There are some cool bells, whistles, and Millenial-facing brands attached to 365, but this is still the same Whole Foods that tried to sell us asparagus water. Just take a long sip of that that lemongrass oolong tea and forget that you ever thought things would be different.