Whole Foods London vs Whole Foods Bowery: London wins

OK New Yorkers, time to cry into our Riedel stemware: the new Whole Foods on High Street Kensington in London beats the snot out of Whole Foods Bowery from a wine perspective. Roll the tape from the Financial Times:

“The eating-in aspect of this branch of Whole Foods is much more significant than anything we have ever done in the US because of the relative ease of acquiring a liquor license here rather than in the US where it is difficult in certain states and impossible in others. We simply could not do anything like this back home.” (emphasis added)

Thus said David Lannon, a regional president of WFMI in the UK. But it doesn’t stop there. “On the ground floor, between a large wine department (where not all the wines on sale are organic) and their temperature-controlled cheese room, is a small wine bar where one can sample the produce from either department.” (emphasis added)

Better in-store dining! Free samples with cheese! This New Yorker votes to import London’s laws on wine retailing!

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21 Responses to “Whole Foods London vs Whole Foods Bowery: London wins”

  1. Forget the wine – how’s the organic produce in London? Our recent 3+ week tour of Ireland & the UK found very little high quality organic produce – so I wonder if Whole Foods will be changing that.

  2. Did you click through to the article, Jack? Nick Lander sez:

    A long-lasting effect has already occurred in the marketplace in which Whole Foods and a smaller competitor, The Natural Kitchen, which has just opened in Marylebone High Street, have chosen to operate. A number of committed growers, producers and farmers I have spoken to are thrilled to see the arrival of Whole Foods in particular. “They are definitely going to up the ante for consumers,” said one who preferred to remain nameless. “I think the major British supermarkets have become complacent over the past few years and have become takers rather than givers on the back of the growing interest in organic food. That approach is going to have to change now.”

  3. Hopefully they will influence the other supermarkets which don’t have very good organic selections. We get our high quality organic produce like many other Londoners, delivered direct from the farm. It’s actually an ingenious method of produce distribution as the waste is minimized by having a predicable customer base for their veg boxes. Amazingly cheap as well. Impressive even to a skeptical American.

    I’m interested to see how British food giant Tesco does with its Fresh and Easy stores (wasn’t that the name of a deodorant?) that they launch later this year. They’re basically counting on winning over American shoppers with “ready-meals”, which are hugely popular in the UK. Yes, the average British supermarket is like Stoufers or Swansons gone wild, TV dinners in virtually every aisle. Doesn’t the US have enough industrial food already? Easy perhaps but Fresh my ass!

  4. Thanks for the inside scoop, Steve. While the CSAs (the bizarrely Communistic acronym we have for such recurring, farmer-direct purchases) can be great, they are also impossible for tourists like Jack to purchase, hence his being underwhelmed.

    As Whole Foods bulks up in the UK, perhaps Michael Pollan’s book and the issues it raises (such as “industrial organic”) will find a foothold there.

    Brilliant TV dinner analogy!

  5. I have seen the store…it’s empty! Sadly it looks like it wont make it. I suspect they have pitched the prices too high.

  6. Oh really? Someone wrote that the London store was really full on the opening day (maybe traffic ebbed after that?). And I thought “prices too high” and “London” were an oxymoron!

  7. Nick is right,the store under its present style has no chance. Its breakeven is about £500,000 a week and as nick says the store is almost always empty except for Saturday and Sunday, which indicates it is more a destination than a day to day experience.
    Mind, they have not helped themselves by shutting the old Barkers arcade entrance and the Young Street one and by posting Security Guards dressed in black at the front door.
    The prices are high, but the prepared food is just awful and sits all day stewing in hot servers. The cold prepared deli food is like something from the 70’s and the cold meat sits for days.

    How ridiculous is that for cheese and wine.

  8. I would imagine that Nick and Bye work for the competition especially given the detailed critique of the entryways, foot traffic and business plan.

    The prices can be high (in the US they are known as Whole Paycheck) but take a look at the produce, cheese, bakery, butcher and fish monger. They are all far superior to any UK supermarket.

    If you are indeed part of the competition, please look carefully and learn.

  9. Well I certainly dont work for the competition, but I do work near them and I can analyse business viability and in this case it is not too difficult given the lack of customers. In addition you cannot create profit from Bread, Cheese,meat and fish unless you have huge numbers of customers buying huge quantities of food like in USA.
    The quality is not vastly better than local Waitrose, M&S etc. but one aspect you are correct in is it does take your whole paycheck !

  10. It looks like we have different ideas about what makes a good supermarket. Waitrose is an excellent supermarket but their produce, meat, fish and bakery departments could improve. M&S is a joke and exactly what Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey speak out against – it’s 100% ready meals!

    Also, I guess nobody told our local (SW6) bakery, fish shop or butcher that they can’t make money. Doh!

  11. Do the math!!! £500,000 a week minimum breakeven requires a lot of customers spending a lot of money and there arent a lot of customers there,so you have to either start again or use it to offset your tax liabilities elsewhere.
    SW6 retailers make money because they know their market. Wholfoods didnt,doesnt and will ultimately either have to learn or pay the price of all failed ventures.

  12. Print | Save | E-Mail | Rate | Comment


    Mail on Sunday; London (UK), Arrival Time: 2007-07-30


    from 1 user(s).

    Billed as the supermarket to change the way the British shopped, the food was fresh and plentiful, the presentation perfect and the organic credentials shouted from the shelves. But Whole Foods Market, the US giant that opened the doors of its London flagship store with a blaze of flattering publicity last month, is said to be dumping skiploads of food.

    It also faces a barrage of official complaints about its labelling and the provenance of its produce.

    According to industry sources, the store has sales of only 500,000 a week, a third of its projected breakeven target. And though it impresses with 21 varieties of tomatoes and 400 types of cheese, many customers have balked at the store’s higher-than- average prices.

    Notable examples from the launch were cherries being sold for 11.99 a kilo and a single prawn skewer priced at 8.99.

    When Whole Foods had its grand opening, it drew crowds of health- conscious, environmentally concerned and inquisitive customers, many attracted by its promise of additive-free, ethically sourced produce.

    Almost two months later, the crowds have disappeared. Chiller cabinets in the shop in Kensington, west London, that once groaned with fresh produce, have been given over to soft drinks. On Friday, during peak after-work buying hours, fewer than half the tills were open to serve customers wandering the three floors of the 80,000 square foot store.

    Richard Hyman, chairman of retail analyst Verdict, said: ‘The store is not going to work because it is miles too big. It is a vicious circle there is a high proportion of wastage because there is so much fresh food, but that pushes the prices up. Getting rich people in Kensington to shop there is not difficult, but getting enough bums on seats to sustain 80,000 square foot of sales is impossible.’

  13. Lots of fresh food? Harrumph!

    We’ll put an end to that!

    Can’t these silly Americans see the wisdom of ready meals? Get the press on them, boys!

    The Sun, sir?

    No let’s pull out all the stops – THE TELEGRAPH!!



    3 years later, a plaque is erected:

    On this spot Her Majesty’s right brave honorable and loyal Subjects battled an unwelcome and most odious menace, saving London from a relentless and bewildering onslaught of Fresh Food.

  14. Fresh….not after it has sat mouldering on the shelves for more than a week.
    M&S do have the measure of British taste…hence their success and their rival’s inability to convert us to Mung beans and 24 varieties of tomatoes..have you tasted WF’s peanut butter….if thats good for you make mine Skippy !

  15. Yes that Whole Foods peanut butter is truly diabolical! It tastes like – egads – fresh roasted peanuts! Haven’t these peolple heard of sugar and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil? And don’t they have the decency to run it through a proper factory?!

  16. Exactly !! although I could argue the fresh roasted bit…The coffee yes, the nuts have been there as long as me! Who wants to eat that rubbish when we have ALL been brought up on Skippy!
    But seriously check this out

  17. Well…I don’t know where to start. I first came upon the proposed Kensington site for Whole Foods on a trip to London in October 2006. I was staying across the street and down two blocks from the Barker Building at the Royal Garden Hotel. Now understand my typical morning in Kensington while on travel. I depart the hotel in search of a better cup of coffee, i.e., I head to the hole-in-the-wall Starbucks across the street. (Ok…we Americans are always looking for home.) Then I take a walk in Hyde Park next door for an hour, with coffee in tow. This day in October, however, led me further down Kensington High Street — as if something or someone was guiding me — where I chanced upon a rather large sign announcing “Coming Summer 2007, Whole Foods!” Wow, I thought. This is going to be amazing. You see, in Bethesda, Maryland. where I reside, I have an excellent though dated Whole Foods. I have at least two others within a short drive, as well. I’m spoiled. So, now looking for an organic “home” on the other side of the pond, you can imagine my excitement to see that Whole Foods would be essentially across the street from my usual hotel stay.

    Now, back in London last month, I had an opportunity to visit the store. This was an amazing experience…and I came prepared with my green Whole Foods bag from the U.S., which did receive a lot of attention from the two American managers and other staff members. Now, I have been in the larger, newer stores in Manhattan (multifloored), Boca Raton and Palm Beach Garden (huge), and La Jolla and Brentwood (sophisticated), but nothing prepared me for the Kensington store. I must have spent hours there initially, where drool must have been running down me, and I did revisit the store several times for take-away or dine-in (e.g., the sushi bar was fun…I’m fluent in Japanese, and the head chef is Japanese), I must say, however, that the highlight of the visit was sliding back the large (are they untreated cedar?) eight or nine foot high, very thick french doors that house the dedicated cheese ageing room. This was amazing! Slabs of cheese on top of slabs of cold, cold marble. It was unbelievable. I now want this type of structure — on a smaller scale — in my next house. A sort of dual-use cheese and wine storage room. You have to understand. How often do you walk into an area housing lots and lots of cheese, only to see that within the space…is another space…with even more cheese. By the way…no signs. Most people were too nervous to slide the door open. But a few of us did. We entered into what felt like an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of experience and were treated with courteous help behind the multitude of marble stanchions.

    So…where do I go from here? I must stop for now. On my next post, I want to discuss the multitude of chocolate in the basement!


  18. Eric what a load of crap you talk. If you knew anything about cheese you would know not to stored it at +5

  19. Bye the Bye, you are very bitter. And can I understand why. First, you admit you were fed Skippy as a child. You obviously weren’t loved. I was eating fresh peanut butter in the late 60’s. Where have you been? Second, you need to have others, i.e., Whole Foods, fail. It gives you some sense of accomplishment.

    As for “+5 [or 41 F for us Yanks]”, what are you talking about? Was it my “dual-use cheese and wine storage room” comment? What, you can envision variable temperature zones?

    My point stands…the store is amazing. And sorry for the ad hominem attack, however, you are obviously very sensitive and a bit of, well, a bit of a loser. That I infer not from your criticism of Whole Foods, but rather your style (or lack thereof) of writing.

    So, to bring it down to your level — bring it on!

  20. Eric MD it is not necessary to advertise the fact that you have a “M”ini “D”ick just because you are a Pr*** !with a fixation on Peanut butter…Peanuts obviously figure very much in your makeup !!!
    Clearly you are in the pay of Wholefoods if not the Man himself who is given to sounding off. There is nothing wrong with the store except it is losing money so fast that if it wasnt for the fact that it was being subsidised by US then it would have closed by now. Take a look if you can at the M&S’s, Selfridges and Harrods and check how it should be done

  21. Well Eric E of bethseda……now the store has lost $75MM so you are right in one respect. The store is amazing for it’s ability to lose money faster than any store in the UK or the US for that matter….strangely quiet I see so my point stands and I think is supported by the facts…Oh BTW the CEO of Wholefoods also thinks his store sells Junk. !


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