Co-op Ozark Natural Foods Preps for Whole Foods Competition in Fayetteville

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014 12:00 am  

Fayetteville city officials were on hand for the official groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Whole Foods Market Inc. store on North College Avenue on Wednesday.

“It’s a perfect fit for this city,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan. “It’s a great win for the city.”

When Whole Foods announced its plans in the spring to locate a store in Fayetteville, it elicited both cheers from fans of the high-end grocery store and concern from supporters of Fayetteville’s own organic Ozark Natural Foods, the state’s only grocery co-operative, which has been in business since 1971. Ozark Natural Foods later released a statement that said it welcomed Whole Foods since that would increase the community’s access to healthy products.

Behind the scenes, though, Ozark Natural Foods went to work quickly to determine how best to handle the new competition. It developed a “competition preparation plan” with different marketing and pricing strategies for the next year.

“We’re definitely going to be aggressive,” said Alexa McGriff, the marketing director for Ozark Natural Foods. “We’re not going to sit back and let Whole Foods come in while we hold on and hope we make it through the storm. We’re trying to do a lot where we engage with customers and get them more involved with our brand.

“I’m sure Whole Foods is going to have good customer service, but we’re going to have better customer service. That’s our thing. We pride ourselves on being the happiest, friendliest store in town.”

Whole Foods, with 371 stores nationwide and eight in Canada, reported revenue of $12.9 billion in fiscal year 2013 compared with $14 million for Ozark Natural Foods. And not only is Whole Foods coming to town, it’s also setting up shop just 2 miles north of Ozark Natural Foods.

“While it is competition and that can be scary, the more important thing is we are excited that now more people will have access to healthy foods,” McGriff said. “It’s a larger organization that has more money to spend on advertising so more people will learn about it. We are definitely aware we will lose some business. That’s just the nature of competition.”

Whole Foods paid $4 million for the 5-acre lot at 3535 N. College Ave. that will have up to 10 other stores or restaurants. Construction is scheduled to begin in a few weeks, and Whole Foods expects the store to open in the fall of 2015.

The city agreed to pay about $150,000 to install a traffic light at the intersection of Masonic Drive and College — the intersection at the entrance to the shopping center at the west end of Masonic Drive that Whole Foods is anchoring.

Whole Foods decided on Fayetteville, rather than the other main cities in northwest Arkansas that were also vying for the grocery giant, after the city began building the flyover bridge to connect College — which is also Highway 71B — to the Fulbright Expressway.

“We’re always wanting to go to communities that are excited about us,” said Laura Zappi, the executive marketing coordinator for Whole Foods’ Southwest Region. “The area as a whole is a great spot. It could use this type of service. It’s underserved in the local, organic market.”



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