Whole Foods Market has introduced new product submission guidelines, as part of an overhaul of how it lists new UK suppliers, The Grocer has learned.
In August the company formally introduced a new yearly product submissions calendar across its grocery, wellness + beauty and speciality categories. Subcategories within those categories will now only be considered during specific time windows, with the time periods for specific lines under consideration rotating each financial year.
The changes affect suppliers looking to stock new products with Whole Foods Market in the UK and mean that suppliers will now have to wait until their category window is open before they can submit new listings.
Previously buyers worked to yearly targets and would introduce new suppliers on a much more flexible basis, The Grocer understands. However, the company had been trialling specific time windows for some categories over the last year.
“The big change for us is about creating more accessibility for how you get into Whole Foods Market,” Jade Hoai, director of purchasing and operations at Whole Foods Market UK, told The Grocer. “[Improving] the transparency and the visibility for people who don’t work with us currently.
“If you’ve been working with us there’s not a lot of change. The one exception is having much more visibility on when we’re going to look at the categories.”
As well as helping to give buying teams and suppliers more structure to plan releases, the calendar would also help the business better promote products in stores to ensure they hit shelves at the time and season to land best.
The new submission calendar brings the UK business in line with how buying teams operate in the US and Canada, Hoai said.
“We wanted to be very open with everybody who’s new, who doesn’t have experience in listing their brand, so that we can encourage more growth and more innovation.”
Although the business has introduced the calendar, Hoai stressed that it will still accept off-cycle submissions in special circumstances.
“Let’s say there’s something innovative out there or a trend that’s just beginning to take off and someone’s got something they want to be able to bring immediately – it doesn’t mean we’re being absolute,” Hoai said.
Off-cycle submissions may also be accepted if brands grant Whole Foods exclusivity, Hoai said, adding that any decision would have to be “really customer led”, however.
The company has published guidelines and more information on its supplier portal on its website.
The subcategories currently up for review in the 2024 calendar include festive groceries, functional snacks, active nutritional supplements, and sake.
The change comes as Whole Foods Market looks to bounce back from what has been a difficult couple of years for the Amazon-owned luxury grocer.
Sales fell 3% and losses rose to £26.3m (from £17.2m) across its seven UK stores in 2022, according to the latest accounts from Fresh & Wild, its UK trading arm. It was the second consecutive year of falling sales.
In response to the cost of living crisis the company began introducing yellow signs in stores highlighting its lower priced products during the summer, as part of a wider remodelling of stores, including in the grocery section of its Kensington store, Hoai said.