Whole Foods Market, the US health/organic chain that's heading for these shores next March, is the talk of the town right now. It seems to have captured the imagination of the (middle-class) public, the media, City analysts and brand owners, not to mention other retailers. It's not hard to see why, either, receiving rave reviews in the US, while worrying and exciting the City at the same time with its astonishing growth and healthy margins.
However, as we eagerly await the countdown (the first store will be a lavish five-storey affair in Kensington High Street, haven't you heard?), I'm wondering if it might have missed the boat. I lived in New York in the late 1990s and welcomed the first Whole Foods Market with open arms. It was a blessed relief from the sterile, uninviting aisles, the endless range of cardboard-flavoured cereals and the terrible customer service in other US supermarkets.
But the gap in the market over here is not so distinct. And it's getting fuzzier. This week, Sainsbury's and Waitrose announced new wholefoods ranges (see p14) as part of a concerted effort to claim the moral highground/get in there quick. It won't stop there. John Lewis is planning to open foodhalls in all its retail outlets (see p10). No doubt wholefoods will feature heavily. Even Lidl, the hard discount chain, has upped the fresh foods and healthy options in its stores, as Joanna Blythman admits (p31).
I believe the Kensington store will still be a success - to the detriment of local supermarkets like Waitrose, as well as the Harrods foodhall. But unlike the US, Whole Foods Market is not going to walk in and find a market with consumers starved of wholesome food. Land banks or no land banks, this market is as sophisticated as it is competitive.