Whole Foods Market will close its southern regional Gluten-Free Bakehouse, according to a notification sent to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Located in Morrisville, N.C., the baking operation employs 102 workers.
The closure, slated for March 8, is due to increased availability of product from third-party gluten-free bakeries, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market told The Raleigh News & Observer.
“Whole Foods Market was the first grocer to respond to the growing customer demand for gluten-free products when we opened our North Carolina bakehouse nearly 20 years ago,” a Whole Foods Market spokesperson told The News & Observer. “As the number of certified gluten-free suppliers has rapidly expanded over the years, our reliance on the bakehouse has diminished. We are working closely with all impacted team members and hope to place them in our nearby locations or in other roles within the company.”
Whole Foods' foray into store-made gluten-free baked goods began in 1996, when Lee Tobin, a baker in a Chapel Hill, N.C., Whole Foods store, was diagnosed with celiac disease, according to the Whole Foods website.
“[Tobin] began experimenting with gluten-free baking on his own time, developing recipes that rivaled conventional goods in flavor and texture. Over the years, the bakery's special gluten-free breads and delectable goodies flew off the shelves faster and faster,” said Whole Foods.
In 2004, the Whole Foods Market Gluten-Free Bakehouse fired up its ovens for the first time. Since then, only gluten-free products are made in the facility, nearly eliminating the risk of cross-contamination from other products and ingredients. The Gluten-Free Bakehouse also has an on-site testing lab, which tests every product for the absence of gluten.
The closure is the latest operational change for Whole Foods since Amazon purchased the natural grocery chain in 2017. Many attribute Amazon’s success to its laser focus on the bottom line. In the 2 1/2 years since the acquisition, Amazon has worked to shed Whole Foods’ “Whole Paycheck” image.