Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural and organic food chain, has been eyeing sites around London since January 2004, when it bought the seven-strong Fresh & Wild chain for £21m.
However, it has only just managed to claim its first biggie in the UK - a 75,000 sq ft site on Kensington High Street,
currently occupied by House of Fraser’s Barkers store. So, what’s taken it so long?
Initially, Whole Foods Market said it wanted to open as many as 75 large stores in the UK. It was expected to unveil them under the Whole Foods Market banner and phase out the Fresh & Wild brand. In December 2004, Whole Foods purchasing director Tim Sperry told The Grocer: “We anticipate opening a number of larger stores in the next few years. We hope to announce something soon in the London area. We’re planning stores of 30,000 sq ft to 40,000 sq ft and up. When we open the first it is likely to be branded Whole Foods Market.”
Eight months later, confirmation finally comes - for a store that is not likely to open until early 2007.
Tom Welham, of retail property specialists Donaldsons, suggests that the delay could be down to getting the right structure in place. “A company of that size should have no issues establishing covenants. It can, however, be difficult getting decisions made quickly without the right finances and personnel in place. Finding locations can also pose problems,” he explains.
Retail analyst at Shore Capital, Clive Black, agrees that location might be a stumbling block. “There are not great swathes of tailor-made sites out there.”
Whole Foods operates a total of 172 stores in the US, the UK and Canada and is valued at $4.7bn on New York’s Nasdaq stock market. The Kensington store represents a significant step forward for its UK operation. Its Fresh & Wild outlets are small, specialist stores of around 4,000 sq ft and, with the new acquisition, it has got its hands on not just an historic piece of the UK’s retailing landscape, but the size of store that is very much in keeping with its US model. Six of its stores in the US are in the 60,000 sq ft to 80,000 sq ft range, with a further 17 in the development stages.
Whole Foods Market boss John Mackey said of the Kensington site: “We believe this spacious urban location positions us to duplicate the success we have experienced in the US.”
The company has set itself a target of $10bn worldwide in sales by 2010. The UK may yet play a bigger part in its plans than initially thought.