Thursday, February 22, 2007

Whole Foods Sows Wild Oats for $700 Million

Whole Foods Market announced Wednesday that it would buy Boulder, Colorado-based Wild Oats Market in a deal worth $700 million. The Austin-based natural foods behemoth hopes the purchase will shore up its market position in the Rocky Mountain region, Florida and the West Coast. It will also give Whole Foods a bigger beachhead to compete against Trader Joe’s.

We have two Wild Oats stores in Austin that operate under the name Sun Harvest. The Rockwood Lane location is currently the only grocery store within reasonable walking distance of my house, so I go there a lot.

There is a world of difference between Whole Foods and Sun Harvest. Despite its quasi-hippie beginnings, Whole Foods is primarily beholden to people who don’t have to worry about the well-earned “Whole Paycheck” moniker. Aside from their 360 line, virtually everything in that store constitutes a “special” purchase in my ledger. It’s always fun to visit the Whole Foods flagship at 6th and Lamar to eat samples and maybe order a smoothie, but I can’t imagine buying a week’s worth of groceries there.

I like to think of Sun Harvest as Whole Foods for those of us who’d like to shop at Whole Foods if it wasn’t so damn expensive. You see a fair amount of sustenance-level progressive types driving sad-ass beaters covered in political bumper stickers at Sun Harvest. I like that. It’s probably a little like Whole Foods was when it first started. The quality and selection are nowhere near as good (or as healthy, for that matter), but their produce deals are sometimes even better than H-E-B’s. I also like Sun Harvest because it’s small and I can get out of there in a hurry.

Regardless of the Whole Foods deal, my Sun Harvest was endangered from the moment Wal-Mart announced it was building a Supercenter at Northcross Mall. The fancy new Whole Foods going in at the Domain will probably seal the store’s fate unless Whole Foods has plans to develop a “neighborhood store” concept there.


Anonymous said...

I can't say that I agree. I've lived near that Sun Harvest for quite some time, and I used it as my primary grocery store for a number of years out of convenience. However, I find myself barely able to go there any more except out of convenience.

I don't find the prices to be any cheaper than Whole Foods or central market for the things I buy. Their produce is generally cheaper, but the quality and selection is quite inferior.

If Whole Foods does chose to close the store, I'll be sad only for the lack of convenience.

Greg said...

I think your mileage may well vary depending on what you buy and how much quality you're willing to sacrifice to buy a head of lettuce for just 88 cents. It is true that non-sale items at Sun Harvest can be marked up considerably. At the same time, you can find some pretty decent deals at Whole Foods if you're disciplined enough. I always try to stay on top of what kind of bread is on sale for $1.99 at Whole Foods because that price point puts the quality/value equation into my (admittedly somewhat tightwadded) comfort zone.

Silver Zephyr said...

i only go to sun harvest if i am in dire need of something. i've seen nearly expired butter in their dairy case (and butter takes at least three months to expire, you know?), the saddest fruit and vegetables i've ever seen, melted then re-frozen ice cream (mmm...grainy!) and most of the cosmetics, etc are either the same price as if not more than those at cm or whole foods. i've also found bugs in bulk items i've purchased their TWICE. so, i've finally learned my lesson. freaky-B on burnet and 2222 is nicer and that's saying a lot.