When organic grocery giant Whole Foods opened its Chandler location Friday, it wasn’t lacking competition.
The new flagship store opened at Ray Road and Loop 101, only a mile away from Sprouts Farmers’ Market. Both stores have the same central goal of bringing local, organic produce to the community
Marci Frumkin, Whole Foods’ regional marketing director, estimated that the Chandler store — which is twice the size of the grocer’s other markets in the Valley — drew about 1,000 customers during the first two hours of operation alone.
Even though Sprouts and Whole Foods will vie for the same customers, Whole Foods spokesperson Stacy Pearson said Chandler had a “need for an organic grocer.”
“More and more folks are turning to organic products and there’s certainly a market that’s big enough for both stores,” Pearson said.
Spouts officials could not be reached for comment.
Experts say the Valley’s natural and organic grocery industry is extremely competitive compared to other markets, with players frequently entering and exiting the arena.
For example, late last year, Henry’s Farmers Market — a subsidiary of Wild Oats — pulled out of the Valley after only two years, while Britain-based Tesco announced earlier this year its intention to open several natural food grocery stores called Fresh & Easy.
“We consider (Phoenix) one of the hottest, most competitive markets in the southwest,” said Mindy McBain, a senior staff writer for The Shelby Report, trade publication.
She attributes the Valley’s population growth as the chief catalyst behind its attractiveness to grocery chains.
“I think the shake out is happening very quickly now,” she said predicting that within six months to a year, it will become clear who’s winning the fight for customers.
Sprouts shopper Megan Rogers said the prices and quality at Sprouts keep her coming back to the grocery store and that she plans to continue shopping there.
“I’ll probably still go to Sprouts because I’ve been coming here for a while and I really like it,” Rogers said.
Compared to other grocery stores, Rogers said Sprouts carries the freshest products.
“Their produce is really good,” Rogers said. “It’s always fresher than places like Safeway or Wal-Mart.”
Other shoppers said that while Sprouts has good sales, they plan on at least trying Whole Foods.
“I live in the area and I’m always looking for something better,” Chandler resident Amber Alexander said.
Whole Foods officials said in July they may add up to 10 stores over the next ten years as part of a major expansion plan the company announced.
Part of the plans include closing the store at Baseline and Rural Roads in Tempe sometime in 2009 and relocating to University Drive and Ash Avenue at the former site of Gentle Strength Cooperative.
Pearson said that Whole Foods is responding to the national trend of environmental awareness. She said customers are looking for “alternatives that are safer, less chemically enhanced and better for the environment.”
To meet this need, Pearson said Whole Foods sells only organic products, many of which are locally grown. Using local growers puts money back into the Arizona economy and also saves in shipping and transportation costs. Pearson said customers can expect fresher food and know that they are making less of a carbon footprint.
Whole Foods is opening the Ray Road store as part of its national expansion, and chose the Chandler location because of the growth in the area. As the flagship store for the state, it will be twice the size and incorporate eat-in diners as well as the traditional grocery section.
“It is working really well in California,” Pearson said about Whole Food’s new concept.
With a grill and cafes serving salads, sushi and Mexican food, Pearson said the new Whole Foods store will stand apart from Spouts more typical grocery approach.
“It’s more interactive, more of a restaurant experience than any of its previous stores and anything else you’ll find in Arizona,” Pearson said.
— Tribune reporter David Woodfill contributed to this report.