365 by Whole Foods' top priority is serving up what millennials want



There are a lot of new brands out there trying to shake up the grocery industry.

Organic, niche names like Sprouts Farmers Market, Earth Fare and Lucky's Market are expanding aggressively. Discount names like Aldi are growing fast, too.

All these new names in grocery are either cheap or healthy. They're not necessarily both.

Except for 365 by Whole Foods Market, based in Austin, Texas.

Whole Foods announced last year that it would launch a new type of grocery store aimed at millennials that offered a wider range of prepared foods and grab-and-go items. The prices would be more affordable than your traditional Whole Foods items, but it wouldn't skimp on the organic and ethically sourced items.

Whole Foods announced it would open 13 of these new 365 stores to start. Florida is getting one of them. It will open sometime next year in the Butler Town Center, an enormous shopping district near I-75 in Gainesville that already has two Publix stores, an Aldi, a Walmart and a Sam's Club.

While on vacation in Seattle recently, I got to check out one of these 365 stores.

The store opened in the first-floor section of what used to be a JCPenney department store at the Bellevue Collection mall. Shoppers stream into the grocery store from the mall parking lot and from another entrance inside the mall.

The store is bright and clean, and at first glance, looks more like an Aldi than a Whole Foods.

A row of iPads are set up at the front of the store where customers can place orders for fresh food to go. That includes pizza, a salad or a burrito. You can pay right there at the iPad and pick up your food in a couple of minutes or schedule it for hours later.

The traditional Whole Foods hot and salad bars are here, but it's like they're on steroids. Four long bars with fresh foods make up the middle of the store. Around the corner is a long refrigerated section filled with prepared meals that only need to be popped in the microwave or oven.

Even in the meat section, customers can pick fresh cuts of grass-fed beef or grab some chicken that's already marinated in a pesto sauce.

The usual Whole Food mantra still applies here: Meat has no antibiotics. All fish is sustainable and wild-caught.

The produce section has a lot of grab-and-go salads. As for booze, the 365 store puts a heavy emphasis on local craft beers and wines.

The focus on millennial shoppers is clear.

Part of the initial glamor of this new store was that Whole Foods aimed to make it a different kind of shopping experience. Part of that includes adding a "friends partnership" with local businesses. Other media outlets reported that could include local popup boutiques like a soap store or even a tattoo parlor. In the Seattle store, it's a Wild Ginger Satay Bar. Customers can step into the small restaurant, order food Chipotle-style and sit at a few tables and chairs set up there and in other parts of the store.

Who knows what the 30,000-square-foot store will look like when it opens in Gainesville. But it's clear that Whole Foods thinks it will be successful in a town filled with college students and young working professionals.

Tampa Bay isn't on the radar for a 365 by Whole Foods Market yet, but as downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa continue to grow, it certainly could be soon.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.


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