Grocery stores in Atlanta are set to absorb a little more competition as Whole Foods Market brings its 365 concept to two locations in the city for the first time this week.
The new 365 units are set to open Dec. 12 in Decatur and Buckhead. 365 is the price-focused interpretation of Whole Foods’ full-line stores, utilizing fewer service departments, outsourced foodservice and a curated product assortment highlighted by its private brands. Analysts say 365 provides Whole Foods with a cost-effective means to expand while reaching price-sensitive and transitioning mainstream shoppers.
The Decatur and Buckhead units would bring the 365 concept to 12 locations overall. Its first store opened in Los Angeles in 2016.
“For the first time in company history, Whole Foods Market is opening two stores in the same market on the same day, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce the Decatur and Northside Buckhead communities to the Whole Foods Market 365 concept, and our curated, high-quality and reasonably priced product selection,” Jeff Turnas, president of Whole Foods Market 365, said in a release.
Turnas said the stores would debut a concept called “365 Faves,” what he described as a limited selection of new products available for a limited time. Both the Decatur and Buckhead stores will feature an on-site Mexican cuisine-focused restaurant, Loteria Grill, from chef Jimmy Shaw. The in-store eateries will serve as the first locations for the Los Angeles-based restaurant in the Atlanta area.
The Decatur unit will have a self-serve beer and wine station known as “Pour de Leon” and house the fourth location for Dtox Juice, an Atlanta-based juice company. Decatur will also include an arcade-style lounge area with free console video games, including Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man.
Sublime Tree, a cold-pressed juice maker, will be opening its second location in the Buckhead store.
Atlanta has seen some new competition, including a rash of Sprouts Farmers Market stores in recent years, although with 5.6 million residents, Atlanta is a big pie. According to Metro Market Studies, grocery market share in the Atlanta metro region is fairly evenly divided between Kroger (23.9%), Publix (23.6%) and Walmart (21.6%). Whole Foods, with eight stores in the region, currently controls about 1.7% of the market, as does Sprouts behind 16 of its stores, Metro Market’s 2018 guide said.
Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, also said this week that its new full-line store in Newtown Square, Pa., would open June 18.
Whole Foods Market opened the newest version of its 365 concept in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood Wednesday, bringing the simpler, value-based interpretation of its parent brand to a dense and stylish neighborhood that could probably support either version.
Featuring a street-level food court, a first-of-its-kind self-serve beer and cider bar and other technology-enhanced innovations designed to enable the shopper to provide the service, the 40,000-square-foot store, like the neighborhoods surrounding it, was buzzing with activity on opening morning.
To many observers, there appeared to be few obvious differences between this 365 and its full-scale sister, whose locations can be found elsewhere in Brooklyn and in neighboring Manhattan, where Whole Foods now outnumber traditional grocery chains such as Gristedes and D’Agostino.
The store itself is about 10,000 square feet smaller; the brand selection is generally more limited; and there are no service meat, seafood, bakery or floral departments. Its message on product standards and quality is quite similar, although this is enhanced at 365 with an additional pricing message, while the theater of Whole Foods’ main brand is in some ways made up for by a bright and funky design, interactive kiosks and extensive use of video boards. The service element is largely left to the partner restaurant brands located on the street level.
365 Store Team Leader Kelvin Abdulla told WGB he felt there was no reason the Fort Greene 365 couldn’t approach the impressive volumes done by its local sister stores. He cited a knowledgeable staff of about 150—with many of those local workers new to the company, he said—as well as a highly visible and accessible location in the heart of Brooklyn. The store sits just off the Atlantic Avenue depot, serviced by 10 subway lines and the Long Island Railroad and surrounded by residents of the Fort Greene, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill and Prospect Heights neighborhoods. The Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls, a new Apple store, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Barclays Center, home of the NBA Brooklyn Nets, are all three-point shots away.
“We’re geared for success here,” said Abdulla, a 12-year Whole Foods veteran who most recently was an assistant manager at Whole Foods’ Union Square store in Manhattan, and who trained for his new role during a monthlong stay at a 365 store in California. “It’s location, location, location.”
The store also appears somewhat distinct from earlier versions of 365, which have met mixed success since being introduced two years ago. One difference is evident in grocery, where shelves stand 82 inches high—or about the same measurement of 6-foot-8 Nets forward DeMarre Carroll—due to expected higher volumes per foot. Other 365 units were careful to keep shelf profiles low in an attempt to provide vistas across the store. In Brooklyn, the store comes gradually into view from the escalator between the street-level food court and the market downstairs. Grocery aisles are tucked behind the stairs.
The Fort Greene store includes the first location of the “Pour-it Authority” self-serve beer and wine station. Users obtain a card that can be scanned at the tap to serve themselves a drink, which they can enjoy while shopping or accompany with selections from the neighboring foodservice partners or the prepared foods in the market. A seating lounge with tables sits in the rear of the store.
Whole Foods’ recent acquisition by Amazon is evident in a wall of pickup lockers installed in the cafe. While some have speculated that Amazon could use the 365 vehicle as a means to expand the checkout-free experience it developed in the recently opened Amazon Go store, it’s hard to image such a concept could work amid the foot traffic and wide assortment in Brooklyn. Checkout at 365 borrows the same queueing technique utilized at other New York City Whole Foods stores, where shoppers are funneled to three color-coded lanes and are called to any of 20 registers as shoppers check out.
365 makes extensive use of video monitors atop endcaps and in other sites around the store, offering eating, health and shopping tips, as well as special offers and promotions for its Rewards loyalty club. The Rewards program provides 10% discounts on about 100 items a week, which are activated when shoppers provide their phone numbers at the register. The program is integrated with the existing Whole Foods loyalty scheme, but not yet with Amazon’s Prime.