Touring the Grandly Reopened Boulder Whole Foods
August 15, 2011
Sunday I went on a tour of the newly remodelled Whole Foods in Boulder. I wasn’t expecting to see too much more than what I’d seen as new areas were revealed during the remodelling over the past year. But I was actually blown away. In addition to the extensive amount of products added, I learned quite a few things about Whole Foods that really impressed me. I have always loved the way the Whole Foods store looks and feels, and the quality of the merchandise, but to be honest, part of me has always felt a little guilty, since it’s a large, out-of-state corporation that came in and took over Boulder-owned Wild Oats and Alfalfa’s (which has, of course, gone back to being Alfalfa’s this past year). I kind of felt like a bit of a traitor. But I really liked what I heard during the tour. There is so much focus on local and organic produce, sustainable fishing, humanely raised meat, bulk foods, and healthy alternatives. In addition, there are programs that Whole Foods has or participates in, like the Eat a Rainbow program with the School Food Project, which has placed salad bars in all BVSD K-8 schools. There are micro-loans for female owned businesses, Whole Trade (similar to Fair Trade, but with less overhead taken from the farmers), and the new Cooking department at the Boulder Store which has a cooking coach and other resources to help home cooks learn new things and share knowledge and experiences. It also sounds like the different regions are allowed to operate fairly autonomously, which allows the stores to interact with and support their local communities. And the store is gorgeous! I’ll still get most of my produce at the Boulder Farmers’ Market during the summer and fall. But there are a lot of things you can’t get there, and there’s no Farmers’ Market for about half of the year.
Our tour started in the expanded floral department, which I included a picture of just because it looked so pretty. Then on to the produce deparment.
I was delighted to see what seemed to be an even larger emphasis on local food in the produce department. The items are from local suppliers when possible, and they even have a sign which shows the number of local products they have in the department that day.
It made me very happy to see that they now carry Hazel Dell mushrooms! (The morels are from California, but everything else in this case is Hazel Dell).
On to seafood. All the seafood they sell is labelled with a sustainability rating. Whole Foods has made a pledge to phase out even selling non-sustainable seafood, despite the fact that there is quite a market for it. And that brings us to a point that our guide made that really resonated with me. Yes, Whole Foods is a big corporation, not owned in Colorado. But their size also means that they have more power and ability to affect the industry. And if they are willing to use that clout to improve the situation with seafood, promote humane animal treatment, and support local farmers – that seems like a pretty good thing to me.
I think the part of the tour that made the biggest impact on me was the meat department. I have only recently re-introduced red meat back into my diet (in extreme moderation), but through books, movies, farm tours, and discussion, I’ve done a lot of thinking about meat over the past few years (I’ll do a post on that eventually). As a result, humanely raised livestock has become very important to me. So I was thrilled to hear about the rating system that Whole Foods is using to determine what meat they sell. The Global Animal Partnership (a non-profit organization) has different step ratings for how animals are kept, and Whole Foods does not have any meat in their meat case that doesn’t satisfy at least the first step. As an example, according to the brochure from the Global Animal Partnership, for chickens the first step includes, but isn’t limited to, no de-beaking or beak trimming, no antibiotics, space to flap their wings and preen without touching another bird, and a maximum transport time of 8 hours. For Step 5 and 5+ ratings, birds must be carried upright, one at a time. They must have shade outdoors, and enough vegetative foraging matter to encourage natural behavior. And all the meat in the cases is labelled with the animal welfare rating. I love this!
And then on to the department that I was most excited to see, the Cooking Department. This is where all of the bulk items are (of which it seems there are more), as well as the cooking coach and other resources. The idea is to encourage people to get in the kitchen, and cook. To make it fun and interesting, and to encourage a knowledge-sharing community.
One of the most cool looking things in this department is the bulk vinegars (see bad picture above). The cooking coach had us try the peach vinegar, and none of us could get over how great it was. I made a beeline back after the tour so I could buy my first bottle of it. I’m going to make a peach vinaigrette for my arugula this week!
All I probably need to say about the pastry department is that the pastry case is 25 feet long.
Another thing that I was very happy about is that they carry not only Pappardelle’s refrigerated pasta, but also their dry pasta! (If you’ve read my blog before, you’ve noticed that I have a bit of an obsession with Pappardelle’s).
And as before, they have a lovely bakery, a wealth of prepared foods and cheese, salad bars, and several different counters where you can get eat-in items (kind of like a really awesome food court).