Whole Foods Market Wants Local Food, Artisan Goods Suppliers

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Whole_Foods_Market_logoThe Tech Center at Oyster Point in Newport News will soon be the home of the first Whole Foods Market on the Peninsula, prompting the Texas-based supermarket chain to begin a search for local farmers and producers of artisanal goods.

As work continues on the building that will soon house the store, the company has issued a call for anyone interested in selling their wares at the Newport News store to step forward by May 1.

A precise opening date for the Whole Foods Market has not yet been announced.

Whole Foods Market started in Austin, Texas, in 1980 and has since grown into a chain with more than 360 stores, all of which focus on selling natural and organic foods. To help fill the shelves, the company regularly buys products including meat, seafood, produce, alcohol and dry goods from producers considered local to each individual store — usually within 100 miles, but also within state lines.

“When we come into an existing or new community, we really want to have products that are reflective of the community,” said Jill McCarthy, the company’s coordinator of mission and purpose for the Mid-Atlantic region. “We’re looking for things people are already familiar with that they get from family friends or farmers markets or other ways they’re finding local products within their community.”

The company first turns to ingredients when it considers buying from a local source. A list of unacceptable ingredients is available on the company’s website. It also likes to send personnel to inspect the farms and production sites of its suppliers and to go over protocols like food safety plans.

McCarthy said the company begins exploring the surrounding region about 18 months ahead of a store opening, a process that started months ago for the Newport News location.

“There are some conversations going on with some suppliers, nothing announced yet,” she said. “There are definitely some partnerships that are brewing. It’s something we’ll certainly turn up the search on in the coming months. There’s nothing like being in the community to find products.”

The company already has familiarity with Eastern Virginia, as it operates stores in Richmond and Virginia Beach. Suppliers for those stores include a craft brewery in Norfolk, a body products store in Virginia Beach, and a peanut butter manufacturer and a bake mix company in Richmond.

Items from those companies and the other local suppliers are placed on the shelf alongside information, such as how far the product had to travel to reach the store and sometimes a photograph or small story about the supplier.

Though the Historic Triangle already falls within 100 miles of both existing stores, none of the suppliers on a list provided by McCarthy are located within the Triangle’s boundaries.

In the coming weeks, the company will look to stores both in the greater Williamsburg area and beyond as it attempts to sort out its supply chain. While the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County have no shortage of artisanal retailers, there are a limited number of farms that could potentially partner with the Newport News store.

Tracy Herner directs the Williamsburg Farmers Market, which is open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays throughout much of the year. Of its 61 vendors, 14 come from Williamsburg and James City County, with all but three consisting of services like knife sharpening and flower sales. The other three vendors are farms that grow food to sell.

All but one of the 61 vendors are located within 100 miles of Williamsburg, however the majority of food growers are located to the west of the Historic Triangle. To ensure the market is not overstocked, the number of vendors is carefully controlled.

“We get a lot of people approaching us, but not from [the Historic Triangle],” Herner said. “It would be more like Surry, Carrolton, the Northern Neck, Richmond and King William.”

Herner said Eastern Virginia is well suited for growing most fruits and vegetables, with the exception of apples. In particular, peaches, melons and strawberries grow well in the area.

Anybody interested in selling goods to Whole Foods Market is encouraged to contact the company by emailing MAlocalsuppliers@wholefoods.com by May 1.

The store will be located within the Tech Center at Oyster Point development, which is currently under construction by the intersections of Jefferson Avenue and Oyster Point Road.

The $250 million development is described on its official website as a “mixed-use lifestyle center” that will feature more than 250 apartments, 50,000 square feet of offices and 260,000 square feet of shopping and restaurants.

Along with Whole Foods Marketplace, the development is expected to contain a P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, a DSW and a Conte’s Bike Shop location.