CHICAGO – When Whole Foods Market announced last year it was opening a store in downtown Detroit, the reaction was predictable: Whole Foods? In Detroit?
The move reflects a new direction for America’s largest purveyor of natural goods, according to Walter Robb, the chain’s co-chief executive officer.
“We’re accelerating growth,” Robb said in an interview at the company’s Austin, Texas, headquarters. “That’s going to take us places we have not been to before.”
As Whole Foods prepares to open the Detroit store in May, it’s planning to triple its store count to 1,000 and boost sales by opening locations in underserved areas and smaller markets.
Supermarkets are fighting for share as Americans eat out more and grocery-store sales stagnate. Industry revenue will grow an estimated 0.4 percent to about $491 billion this year, according to a June report from researcher IBISWorld Inc. Whole Foods, which boosted profit for three years running, has become increasingly valuable to investors relative to other U.S. companies. It trades at more than twice the valuation of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, while Kroger, Safeway and Target trade at a discount.
The company has been talking to the mayors of Chicago and Newark about opening in areas with few or no grocery stores, Robb said.
Whole Foods is also considering opening stores in smaller markets with populations of about 75,000. It recently opened locations in Glen Mills, Pa., and West Des Moines, Iowa. Whole Foods may open stores as small as 15,000 square feet and as big as 75,000 square feet, company filings say.