Brand Experience Brief: Whole Foods Detroit

Whole Foods Market opened a unit in Midtown, Detroit, to serve a primarily black, low income consumer who is relatively uneducated about local and healthy food. Check out this video audit to see how it designed and managed the customer experience there.

DLYohn Brand Experience Brief: Whole Foods Detroit from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

other brand experience briefs:


What happens when a grocery store tries to challenge elitism, racism, and obesity? That’s what I wanted to find out when I visited the Whole Foods in downtown Detroit. This brand experience brief shows you what I found.

Whole Foods opened this location 15 months ago in Midtown, Detroit, perhaps one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest cities.  I was curious how different the store would have to be from a regular Whole Foods in order to appeal to a primarily black, low income consumer who is relatively uneducated about local, organic, and sustainable food.

What I found is the store is smaller than most Whole Foods, at 21,500 square feet vs. the chain’s traditional 50-70,000 square foot spaces and so the selection in pretty much every category is much smaller – but for the most part, the Detroit store has every department you’d find in a regular Whole Foods, including bakery, vitamins, bulk, meat and seafood, packaged goods and produce.

There’s a foodservice area with salad, soup, and hot food bars as well as prepared foods and pizzas sandwiches prepared to order with a decent selection of items along the healthy eating continuum.

The eating area features a community table and upstairs there’s a community room where they local groups can have meetings and where they hold the classes and experiences such as Gingerbread decorating over the holidays which comprise a robust calendar of events like they have at every other store.

Pricing has been a sticking point for this store, as low prices are key to making the store accessible to the local community.  When the store opened, it compared its offerings to the chain’s usual prices, for example the hot food and salad bars cost $6.99 a pound instead of the usual $8.99.  And it has capped bottles of wine and per-pound meat to $20.  But critics who have done item-by-item price comparisons find that products are still well above a neighborhood grocer in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

As with most Whole Foods, there is a lot of signage promoting brand messages and product differentiation as well as the store’s local connection.  In this store, “proud to be here” is a common message and there are tributes to community partners as well as signs promoting local sourcing.  Locally sourced goods are highlighted with signs or tags that explain their origins, and artwork from local artists is also featured.  There seems to be more local signage than at most stores, but it is tastefully done and seems appropriate for a store that represents such an important step for the brand as well as the city.

All in all, for better or for worse, the differences between this store and other Whole Foods are not all that significant.  And the store seems to be a financial success.  Sales at the store have been double the initial projections and demand seems robust enough that the chain is looking to open its 2nd location in the city.  It’s unclear how much progress Whole Foods has made toward addressing the social ills that plague many urban areas, but it’s done a great job of creating a customer experience that represents the brand well.

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