Published from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where internet access is… challenging.
Last week I went to Whole Foods Market, the US “natural foods grocer” that opened in London on 6th June. It took over a splendid Art Deco building in Hight Street Kensington, where Barkers department store used to be. The store is spacious and even full of people it is still easy to walk around. The design is effective both in presentation and logistics. The prices are comparable but more importantly the selection consists of products sourced locally as well as internationally.
It was a slice of US retail at its best imported to this country but without crowding out the best of local stuff. I found my favourite British products in varieties I did not even know existed. There are whole sections labelled “Best of British”. Fortunately, Wholefoods also passes on the lesson learnt from decades of gross junk foods in the US and there is a great selection of tortilla and no transfats chips, i.e. junk food with damage limitation. I have not seen the awful Walkers crisps but then I was not looking for them.
There is no question that the contrast between the experience of shopping in Wholefoods and then going to Waitrose or M&S a few yards down the same street will have a profound impact on the supermarkets in the UK. If I were M&S, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett or any other retailer marking up organic, green and sustainably virtuous products, I’d be quaking in my boots. There was a man walking around the entrance to Wholefoods with a board for M&S inviting people to come & taste their food. A bit transparent methinks. He could have just as well have ‘losers’ tattooed on his forehead.
There is also no question that some green people in the UK will splutter venom at the sight of Whole Foods. Why? Because this is the opposite of what they are trying to achieve. They want us to stop consuming and here is a Texan bigga betta supermarket barging in, taking over one of the London’s splendid and capitalist buildings (the façade has carvings of ships and even a de Havilland jet plane) telling us that spending on their produce will satisfy our consumerist cravings, make them plenty of money and will be better for our bodies and the planet. Aaarrgh! I predict a barrage of attempts to find ‘fraudulently’ green, natural or organic products at Whole Foods as the hair-shirted, sandal wearing hoards comb through the aisles. I also predict that they will end up green with envy. I shall refrain from going into more organic details.