Going local: the real competition for Whole Foods

Several newspapers today are picking up a story about growing competition in some markets between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Whole Foods’ PR people had a hand in getting the story placed because it lends credence to Whole Foods’ argument that its proposed purchase of Wild Oats will not eliminate competition, and therefore the FTC should not block the merger.

The better argument for this may very well be the success of New Seasons Market here in Portland. New Seasons is winning customers’ allegiance all over the Portland metropolitan area, even with the presence of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Unlike in many major metropolitan areas, Whole Foods has not been able to dominate the market for its preferred “college-educated” demographic in Portland. If anyone is doing the dominating today, it’s New Seasons, along with Zupan’s Markets, another home-grown grocer.

I spent yesterday (Sunday) working at a food booth outside two New Seasons Market stores. All the proceeds from the barbecue sales went to a non-profit organization I am involved with to promote vibrant local economies based on independent locally owned businesses. New Seasons Market is a member of the organization and a poster child for what these businesses mean to a community. The Market is deeply committed to the Portland area and to the success of family farms in Oregon.

At least when it comes to food shopping, Portlanders appear to get the importance of buying from independent locally owned stores. If this awareness spreads to other cities around the country, Whole Foods may discover that its greatest threats are not the other national or international grocery chains. It’s all of us who are saying yes to the relocalization of our food producers and retailers.

July 30th, 2007

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