Can Upscale Whole Foods Really Work In The Nation's Poorest Big City?

Can Whole Foods work in Detroit?

That's the question Louis Aguilar asks in a story Tuesday in The Detroit News.

At 9 a.m. June 5, Whole Foods Market Detroit debuts at 115 Mack in the city's blossoming Midtown area. Many in the company believe it's here where the chain can start to shed its derisive nickname "Whole Paycheck" — a stigma suggesting it can only work in an upscale community.

"We're going after elitism. We're going after racism. Detroit is 90 percent African-American," declared Walter Robb, Whole Foods' co-CEO at a recent business symposium in Los Angeles. Robb didn't elaborate on the last sentence. There was no need.

The Austin,Texas-based chain didn't make $11.7 billion in sales last year by targeting the Detroits of the world. Whole Foods operates 340 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom in affluent, educated communities. It specializes in high quality, organic products that can be pricey.

Whole Foods is determined to prove its formula can work in Detroit; that it knows how to compete in communities with a wider range of incomes. Detroit often is named one of the poorest big cities in the nation, according to various studies, as well as ranking high for obesity rates. The city has been called a "food desert" because of the paucity of full-line grocery stores. Most retailers, including national grocers, won't set up shop in the city limits, although Meijer is set to open its first Detroit store this summer.

Read more:  The Detroit News
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