by Malcolm Jolley
It’s a long way from Austin, Texas to the Square One mall in Mississauga, but Whole Foods Market’s latest store in Toronto’s suburban belt is designed to meet the specific needs of this ethnically diverse community. Lisa Slater, the Square One store’s Team Leader (a.k.a. manager) explained, on a recent tour of the massive 40,000 square foot space that the store would devote more shelf space to South Asian and East Asian foods and products than any other yet. She added quickly, before this correspondent could ask, that all products would follow Whole Food’s supplier’s standards which forbid products with “artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives”. At one point, Slater reminded me that when Whole Foods first entered the Canadian market with their Yorkville store in the 1990s, founder and president John Mackey predicted that within a few years every major Canadian supermarket chain would have an organics section – a state of affairs that was far from the case then, but is now.
The focus on ethnic foods, is one of strategies employed at the new store, which reflect Whole Foods’ current plan to attract shoppers. The other two areas of growth are reflected in more space for “health foods” (products that are designed specifically to improve well being) and more space for local produce, meats, fish and cheeses. Slater pointed to shelves full of products like vitamin water or seaweed chips to demonstrate WFM’s decision to get back to its roots as a health food store, explaining that the decision to seek out new health products was being driven by consumer demand. So too the emphasis on locally sourced foods and the stores’ commitment to sustainably caught seafood.
Another feature of the exceptionally large store, is the bakery, pizza ovens and other food production facilities. Slater, who worked on the openings and management of Whole Foods’ Yorkville and Oakville stores previously, anticipates a large volume of sales in prepared foods as well as straight forward groceries. On the way to a second floor classroom, which will host regularly scheduled cooking classes, Slater points to an electronic bulletin board where customers can make comments for all to see. Whole Foods aims, she explains, to be part of the community and a centre where people interested in the healthy, natural lifestyle can congregate. Information on upcoming events held at Whole Foods Market Square One can be found at their constantly updated Facebook page here.
Malcolm Jolley is the executive director of Good Food Media, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to educating the public about artisanal food and the publisher of Good Food Revolution. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley.