WASHINGTON — Whole Foods Market, often called “Whole Paycheck” because of its prices, is working to shed that image.
The chain realizes that it is no longer as exclusive as it once was, and that it needs to compete on price and bring shoppers back.
In its most recent quarter, Whole Foods’ same-store sales were down 2.6 percent from a year ago, and the retailer has said that sales could fall as much as 2 percent in 2017.
“The field is a little more crowded. Whole Foods sort of had a monopoly for a long time, but there’s more competition now and more focus on organics,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher at Food World and Food Trade News in Columbia, Maryland.
“Whole Foods did a wonderful job and kind of created that semimonopoly for many years, but other guys have caught up, including many mainstream retailers who offer large and somewhat comparable organic sections,” he said.
For example, D.C.’s biggest grocery players by market share, Giant Food and Safeway, continue to open larger and more upscale stores while still keeping prices competitive.
One recent example of Whole Foods’ new approach is its Thanksgiving dinner, which might have been one of this year’s best Thanksgiving bargains. Its prepared turkey dinner, with a ready-to-cook, 13-pound bird and traditional side dishes for 6 to 8 people, was $90 this year. It was previously $120.
A Bloomberg Intelligence study, however, found the cost of 20 basic ingredients to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner at Whole Foods were still well above average when compared with prices at other grocers like Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Target and Wal-Mart.
Whole Foods has also launched a lower-priced chain called 365 By Whole Foods Market. So far, there are just a handful of 365 stores on the West Coast, but it plans its first 365 location in the D.C. region in Fairfax, Virginia.
“It’s kind of a funky mix with more aggressive pricing, more technology in the stores,” Metzger said.
“There are those who would question if they need an offset brand. Whole Foods management is very passionate about this. It remains to be seen whether this concept is going to work, but they are definitely well capitalizing it, and as I said, Whole Foods is very passionate about its expansion.” he added.
Whole Foods is also now aggressively promoting digital coupons to draw customers in, something unheard of for the chain a few years ago.