The assault on the senses starts at the front door of the Whole Foods Market. As you enter, a rainbow of dewy fresh fruit and vegetables stretches from the front entrance in wicker baskets.
Rounding the first aisle, you come upon the deli counter, which runs along the back of the store and, the first of many surprises, a stand where you can serve yourself hot soup. There are six soups of the day. Ringed around the cauldrons are a selection of bakery items to complement the soup - including La Brea breads and flavoured breadsticks. The attention to detail is exquisite.
Further along towards the bakery is another stand, with massive cheese cut into rounds to encourage sampling, and flatbreads to accompany them.
The main bakery section dominates the far side of the store with aromas of fresh baked bread wafting from it across the store.
Here there is a buzz as you catch sight of bakers at work behind a long shiny metallic takeaway counter, which runs along the perimeter of the store.
As you wander through the display you can pick up all manner of beautifully merchandised fresh and fine natural and organic breads, cakes and cookies, many of them from local bakers. The range also features European loaves, sandwich breads, baguettes, pastries, and gluten-free baked goods. The IAWS’ La Brea premium bake-off range makes a big splash, with signage flagging up the many unusual breads on display. The breads are baked-off in the bakery behind the counter,
Operating from the counter are a number of takeaway options, well signposted and temptingly merchandised. Made-to-order sandwiches and meal deals are on offer here. You can build your own sandwich - for example, a sliced wholegrain bloomer, spread with avocado mayonnaise on one side and a spicy olive paste on the other. And that is just the butter! Fillings on offer include Apple tahini, Portobello mushroom club, steak with Blue Gouda and Tarragon Chicken with an extensive range of salad items to complement them.
You can also serve yourself coffee on the neighbouring café area of the counter.
So where will you hold your picnic? Well, all along the glass frontage of the store are picnic tables, where customers are enjoying hot and cold items from the deli and coffee area. Just one minor inconvenience in this food paradise? The tills.
Prices are at the premium end at this supermarket. But you do get free samples of chocolate nuggets as you go through!
Speciality bakery lines include:
Cherry Cardamom scones
Cranberry banana Quinoa bread
Blueberry spelt mushrooms
Walnut raisin and fennel muffins
=== Company ethos ===
Established in Texas in 1978 by John Mackay, Whole Foods Market grew throughout the 1990s by absorbing many of its competitors: Bread & Circus, Fresh Fields, Merchant of Vino, Mrs Gooch’s, Bread of Life and Wellspring Markets.
The Whole Foods ethos is to become part of the community in which it trades, sponsoring events, donating food and money to good causes and becoming a neighbourhood gathering place.
The "buy local" message is also big - with a massive focus on local sourcing and sustainability.
=== The UK supermarket ===
scene is set to be shaken up in early June when American supermarket giant Whole Foods Market opens a 75,000sq ft store in London’s Kensington High Street. This will be the natural and organic retail giant’s launchpad into the UK and Europe, with a succession of new stores planned to follow around the UK once the flagship store is up and running.
Whole Foods’s 188 stores in the USA and Canada turned over $5.6 billion in last year. The company targets high-income customers with premium-quality "natural" products. It maintains an extensive list of unacceptable ingredients, including all artificial colours and flavours, sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.
The retailer first made a low-key appearance in the UK in 2004, when it acquired Fresh & Wild, a chain of seven small outlets that it continues to run under the Fresh & Wild fascia. Whole Foods’ arrival will raise the profile of organic and own-label foods in the UK while raising the bar for supermarkets and their bakery suppliers. Senior vice-president for the North Atlantic region David Doctorow says Whole Foods’ bakery department will be a key customer attraction at the front of the Kensington store, with craft bakers baking from scratch in front of customers. Cooking demonstrations, product samplings and in-house eateries, as well as extensive ranges of fresh wholesome organic and natural foods, are also planned. The focus throughout will be on local sourcing and sustainability.