Whole Foods Launches in Britain

Kensington High Street in London saw the opening this week of the largest of the Whole Foods stores, and the first to be located outside the U.S. The three-level store is expected to become a tourist destination (“Look, on your left, a massage station!”). A British retail analyst, quoted in an article in the International Business Times, said, “People will travel into London to visit this store.”

This is the first of a series of Whole Foods stores planned for Britain, but not everyone predicts success.

‘It’s a leap of faith, even though the market is theoretically favorable,’ said Robert Clark, an analyst at the Retail Knowledge Bank consulting group. . . . Whole Foods prices are likely to be above even those currently at the crest of the domestic market, like the current upmarket leader Waitrose, and may be beyond the reach of too many customers.

This sort of feedback is not new for Whole Foods, the Texas-based health food store chain that has grown to nearly 200 stores. An interview with company founder John Mackey, published in the Guardian earlier this year, had him quoting the naysayers.

They said our first store in Austin would not work. Then they said it would not work outside Austin, that it would not work outside Texas, that we would never succeed in California or Chicago or New York. People dismissed us as sort of a fad, just a bunch of weird food hippies. But we’ve proved them wrong everywhere we’ve gone, and we’ll carry on.

The articles covering the opening never fail to mention the glam factor of Whole Foods, how movie stars shop there—Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal. They also mention the cost, significantly more than most British retails charge for grocery items. Will “Whole Paycheck” make it in the UK? Will it manage to expand, as planned, to some 30 to 40 stores in Britain alone? (And yes, there are plans for the Continent as well.)

“I think they have a difficult job in front of them,” Clark said. “But I’ll be happy to eat my hat.”

With a side of Whole Foods’ organic salad greens, of course.

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