November 25, 2008

Sunflower Farmers Market (founded by Mike Gilliland, formerly of Wild Oats) goes after Whole Foods.

Want to love the earth, and keep chemicals out of your tummy—but can’t afford to spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods? That’s the pitch that the new Sunflower Farmers Markets grocery chain is making—right at that little sweet spot that lies between your conscience and your wallet.

Well, to be fair, Whole Foods themselves is aggressively going after your dollar (as opposed to your 20 dollar bill)…but in the proud tradition of American Capitalism, an ex-co-founder of Wild Oats, Boulder Colorado’s Mike Gilliland has started some real competition for the lower end of the mindful market. We have one here in Boulder—because they don’t advertise in elephantjournal.com I frankly forgot about them—as I’m sure did all of you—until the other day, when I went to the VIP opening of Ellie‘s (fortuitously right next door).

The place was huge, tons of selection—the decor and buildout was fun, if a little tacky, and I didn’t see why they were calling it a Farmers’ Market, since just about everything was shipped in and packaged—that said, I’m psyched to have some competition in my hometown, now that Wild Oats and the Boulder Co-op have been Darwin-ed by Whole Foods and Safeway.

FYI, y’all…via the www:

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey:

“If I could go back in time, we wouldn’t have done the Wild Oats acquisition,” Mackey told Samuel Fromartz in an interview the food journalist posted on his blog, ChewsWise.com.

Last February, the Austin, Texas-based chain Whole Foods announced that it would acquire Wild Oats. The Federal Trade Commission tried to halt the merger, saying that Whole Foods was buying out its competition. But the merger prevailed.

“We spent tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, we’ve been investigated, it’s been highly disruptive,” Mackey told Fromartz. “I didn’t realize it would cause so much grief. But if you’re saying has it been a good deal aside from that, well, it’s very early in the process. And we have to invest money before we get returns on it. We always say it takes about two years to integrate a company we acquire and with Oats we’re about 8 months into the process. I’d say we’re pretty happy so far but can’t say with an absolute certainty until the 24 months have passed. But morale is very high and we’ve seen a lot of good sales increases.”

Mackey said that the notion that Whole Foods had quashed its competition “[boggled] his mind.” He cited Trader Joe’s and Safeway’s Lifestyle stores, among other businesses, as examples to the contrary.

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