The American retailer is looking at affluent towns and has changed its strategy to include out-of-town sites with car parks, according to industry sources.
"They have been bidding for lots of sites in the past couple of months and have put in some huge bids, but we are not aware of them securing anything yet," said one retail property insider. "They have been doing a tour of major landlords to say 'We're here and we're looking'. They have published requirements for 15,000 sq ft to 45,000 sq ft gross area and are in talks in quite a few towns. They are promoting themselves hard in the property market."
The market for small supermarket sites is extremely competitive at the moment, with retailers such as Asda and Morrisons moving into the sector.
Whole Foods Market, which turns over more than $8bn a year in the US, opened an 80,000 sq ft store in Kensington High Street in June 2007 to great fanfare. But the store reportedly made a £36m loss last year. It scrapped its seafood counter in 2008 and its Champagne and oyster bar in November 2009, when it started selling ready meals.
Whole Foods' expansion since its arrival in the UK has been limited to the purchase of four Fresh & Wild stores in London. However, earlier this year, Whole Foods reported that its flagship store in Kensington had experienced double-digit sales growth in the three months ending 17 January. This had encouraged it to expand again, said property sources.
"Whole Foods has been looking for sites outside London for a long time but it pulled back last year when its Kensington store was struggling," said one. "It is looking for market towns with plenty of As and Bs, the kind of places where Waitrose does well. But it remains to be seen if they can do it they haven't secured anything outside London yet."
Whole Foods Market declined to comment.