Whole Foods Up Close: Where's the (Local) Beef? (Part 2 of 3)

In yesterday's post, about Whole Foods' Local, Organic Values, I wrote about the core values of Whole Foods and how they influence the food sold at the stores. Today's post is about how purchasing happens, specifically related to the meat we get in the Minneapolis store.

Turns out the local buyers in the Minneapolis Whole Foods need to meet the requirements set forth by the regional buyers in the Illinois office. In some cases, this is as straightforward as the Minneapolis buyers getting beef that has been ordered by the folks in Illinois (where beef from Indiana - which is a lot of what we get - is pretty dang close to being local). But it's not that cut and dry, because part of what makes Whole Foods work so well is the flexibility the mother ship gives each individual store. To that end, each store has the ability to bring in products they deem worthy of Whole Foods.

This works two ways: first, there is a limited amount of space that each store can dedicate to trying out new products. In the Minneapolis store, this includes a small amount of frozen meat from local farms provided by Organic Prairie, a division of Organic Valley. If it works out in the local store, the second way the local team can affect inventory is by lobbying the regional offices to carry the product in more stores. In other words, if the Minneapolis Whole Foods thinks Peace Coffee is the best thing going, its team members can whole-foods-meatmake a case to the Chicago office. If the case is strong enough, the Chicago office may try the product in additional stores.

Local is part of the equation, but it's not the whole story by any stretch. Buyers must balance the desire for locally raised meat (or any other product) with the need to keep prices consistent with other stores (and within the department), the quality of the product(s), other partnerships Whole Foods has in place, and a host of other concerns.

The good news is that Whole Foods is committed to letting its customers know where their products come from, so the meat in the case comes complete with signs, and the people behind the counter are consistently knowledgeable. According to Whole Foods, 53% of the meat sold in their Minneapolis store is local, defined as being raised in the Midwest. So that's why there's so little Minnesota-raised meat in the Minneapolis store.

Yesterday: Local, Organic Values, Part 1 0f 3 Tomorrow: Breaking Into Whole Foods, Part 3 of 3