First off, hope you don’t mind interstate driving.
If you want to see the state’s first Sprouts Farmers Market, opening Wednesday (Aug. 15) in Mill Creek at the Gateway Shopping Center, you’ll need to weave your way through some intense traffic. The store sits across the parking lot from McMenamins Mill Creek pub, its northernmost location.
Just 15 minutes away from Sprouts, Whole Foods is opening a new 43,000-square-foot store on Thursday (Aug. 16) at Kirkland’s Village at Totem Lake, a sprawling retail complex that also includes Nordstrom Rack and Trader Joe’s, among other attractions.
Both stores have their own apps that allow scanning at checkout. Both emphasize fresh produce and natural products, a variety of packaged meals, full-service delis and floral. Also emphasized at both stores: free-range and grass-fed meats.
After all that common ground, let the price wars begin.
Whole Foods has lowered some of its prices since joining forces with Amazon, with discounts tied to Amazon Prime membership. Sprouts will now add competition, with its Costco-like pricing on bulk items such as spices. Expect more regional grocery price wars if Sprouts adds more stores in the area.
The News Tribune toured both the new Whole Foods and Sprouts locations on Tuesday.
We kicked off with Whole Foods, where workers were busily stocking and building displays.
Workers on site emphasized Whole Foods’ ties to local producers, with Rob Valicoff, a third generation farmer from Yakima, giving his sense of the world from the producer side.
“We started out in 1976, my brother and I, 25 acres. I quit college, decided to switch gears, now we farm 1,700 acres,” Valicoff said. “We ship all over the world. We start with cherries about June 5, go right into apricots, then peaches, nectarines; just finished up Bartlett pairs. Today we have about 250 guys picking Gala apples.”
On display: artisan chocolates and cheese (there was talk of artisan cheese specialists called the “cheese whisperers”), build-your-own smoothie and coffee bar, specialty magazines such as Mantra Wellness and Paleo Magazine stocked near the registers and a table ready for “Prime” ambassadors to explain the benefits program to shoppers.
Not yet at the store or in this area: curbside pickup, which Amazon/Whole Foods is slowly rolling out. Sprouts is also not launching that feature yet at its store. Both may offer it soon, given that both Walmart and Kroger have worked to bring more of their stores into digital click-collect options in the region.
Those familiar with the UP Whole Foods also will find similarities to the new store in Kirkland, though the dining area, which opens up to the outdoors, has a seating capacity of 200 to go with its extensive soup and salad bar, taqueria and other food bars, including build your own pizza station (the standing special is two for $28).
Next, Kalia Pang, Sprouts spokeswoman, led The News Tribune through a fully-stocked 30,000-square-foot Sprouts.
The store layout emphasizes produce, stacked high, from the front of the store to the back.
Pang said people can ask produce workers for samples before purchasing. It’s an effort to encourage people to try more items, Pang said.
The meat department offers special cuts, along with grass-fed beef and take-home meals. It also offers a full fish selection.
The chain notes that overall, its stores have on average 4,500 organic items, more than 7,100 gluten-free items, 6,000 non-GMO items and 2,400 Sprouts-brand items.
Chickpea-based pastas, bulk coffees and spices, and aisles of other bulk products were among some of the items available Tuesday.
New products such as Daiya-brand popsicles were displayed with other dairy alternatives in the desserts section, and various nut-based milks were available along with regular dairy.
Pang said Sprouts has on average around 7,500 body- and health-care items in its stores, with specialists in that department to help sort through what’s what. The brands and selection are reminiscent of what was seen at Gig Harbor’s Main & Vine health and beauty section.
The Phoenix-based chain has more than 300 stores, with a target of opening 30 new stores each year nationwide. Washington is a new market for it, and Sprouts wants to see how the Mill Creek store goes over before further expansion.
“Our real estate team is out here often,” Pang noted.
So, there might be hope yet for one in the South Sound if the demand is there.
For now, Sprouts sees its mission as to “try to bring healthy living for less as far as we can to people in Washington state,” Pang said.