(From Left to Right:) WS Development Vice President Lou Masiello, Whole Foods Market South Region President Omar Gaye, City Councilwoman Margaret C. Barrett-Simon, Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., Jackson city Councilman Quentin Whitwell, Highland Village General Manager Guy Boyll III, Jackson city site-plan review Coordinator Joseph Warnsley and city Director of Planning and development Bennie Hopkins break ground on the new Whole Foods Market at Highland Village Thursday.
Photo by Courtesy Ron Blaylock, WS Development
The nation's largest natural and organic grocery chain has begun building its first location in Mississippi, set to open in the fall of 2013.
Whole Foods broke ground at Highland Village in northeast Jackson Thursday. Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and city council members Margaret Barrett-Simon and Quentin Whitwell joined Guy Boyll III of Highland Village, Whole Foods' South Region President Omar Gaye and representatives from contractor White Construction Company to ceremonially move the first dirt on the project.
Contractors will build the 31,000-square-foot store in what is currently part of the east parking lot, between the rest of Highland Village and Old Canton Road.
The Austin, Texas-based grocery chain carries only organic foods with no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or hydrogenated fats. It also boasts a selection of locally grown foods.
WS Development, a Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based retail developer, recently bought a controlling share in Highland Village.
"Whole Foods Market offers shoppers the highest quality, best-tasting and freshest foods in an inviting setting," WS Development Director of Corporate Marketing David Fleming said in a press release. "Each store is unique and is designed to meet the needs of the neighborhoods where they live and work. Combine the great-tasting food with outstanding customer service and the result is a pleasantly atypical grocery shopping experience."
"In addition, Whole Foods Market is dedicated to both serving and becoming a part of its communities, offering locally sourced products wherever possible and education about healthy eating in a fun and inviting atmosphere."
Some have a different take on Whole Foods' approach to local products, though. Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C., has done extensive research on Whole Foods since 2007. She told the Jackson Free Press in February, when Whole Foods and Highland Village announced the new store, that the grocer uses local farmers and products as a marketing tool to get customers in the door. Once there, Mitchell said shoppers will find that local products are far more expensive and more difficult to locate than Whole Foods' own 365 Everyday Value and Whole Foods Market brands.
"Whole Foods uses local goods for wallpaper," Mitchell said. "Then they'll price it substantially higher than other products."
Mitchell conceded that Whole Foods does a better job of carrying local goods than other major chain grocers like Kroger or Walmart, but that the company also seeks to put locally owned organic grocers out of business.
In Mitchell's hometown of Portland, Maine, three organic markets—the Whole Grocer, Portland Public Market and Wild Oats—either went out of business or Whole Foods bought them out after the organic megastore moved to town.
Darrah Horgan, Whole Foods south region spokeswoman, told the JFP that the chain changes competition, but can do so while coexisting with other grocers.
"It's been proven in other markets that we've gone into where there's lots of competition," Horgan said. "It's better for the shoppers; it's better for the consumers because it helps everybody as far as prices and availability of the products that they're looking for."