Whole Foods to sell local food

September 9, 2011
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When Whole Foods moves to Hyde Square this fall, the store’s staff will include a “local forager” responsible for identifying local products for sale at the Jamaica Plain location.

Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready told the Gazette that no one has yet been hired for the position, and she did not respond to Gazette questions about whether Whole Foods has approached any local food producers.

But many local food producers the Gazette spoke to said that that already work with Whole Foods, or have in the past.

Rudy Canale, owner of the Jamaica Plain-based tofu manufacturer 21st Century Foods, told the Gazette that he has been selling his products to Whole Foods, and Bread and Circus, a local chain that Whole Foods bought out, since the 1980s.

Canale said that Whole Foods officials recently contacted him about selling to more stores around the region. Running at full steam, Canale said, he can produce 1,000 pounds of tofu every three hours.

And Whole Foods is great to work with, he said.  “They are a good customer. I don’t even check the payments they make out to me,” he said. Another thing that makes Whole Foods easy to work with, Canale said, is that they have a central drop-off location in Everett, so he does not have to deliver tofu to individual stores.

John Lee, manager at Allandale Farm in JP, told the Gazette that he used to sometimes sell produce to Whole Foods, but that now he sells much of the food he grows other ways. Many JP residents shop at Allandale’s farm stand, he said, and West Roxbury grocer Russo’s picks up produce directly from the farm.

When he dealt with Whole Foods in the past, Lee said, he had to deliver to individual stores. “At some places, they would show up and take care of you,” he said, “At some places it seems like they do not feel like working.”

Batch Ice Cream, a JP company founded in 2010, told the Gazette Batch is in 12 Whole Foods in the Greater Boston area, accoriding to co-founder Susie Parrish.

Morgan Ward, a buyer at City Feed and Supply, a major local retailer of locally produced food, told the Gazette that he is not concerned about competition from Whole Foods in the local food market.

“A lot of what [the forager] will be trying to do is what we are trying to do,” he said. But it is unlikely that Whole Foods will be able to undercut City Feed’s prices on local products, because most of them are produced in such small quantities that Whole Foods will not be able to get a better deal by buying in bulk, he said.

For “mainstream” products like Morningstar Farm veggie burgers, “They will smoke us on price,” Ward said.

 

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