The specialty market will debut a number of unique features designed to draw in Camden County residents.
By Matt Skoufalos
When the Cherry Hill Whole Foods officially opens its doors to the public this Wednesday, don’t be surprised to encounter a level of fanfare typically reserved for a Hollywood premiere.
Consider this: when the market offered two days of preview tours on social media over the weekend, some 1,300 people shuffled through, said Katie Malloy, PR spokesperson for the Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic region.
That’s two days of visitors who arrived at a supermarket, not to shop, but merely to see the makeover the Austin, TX-based company had given the former Genuardi’s at the Ellisburg Circle in Cherry Hill.
“For a lot of people, it’s just seeing what’s new,” Malloy said. “Every single store is different.”
Even so, you’d be hard-pressed to find another supermarket that encourages its customers to “Do Small Things With Great Love” in a font size typically reserved for discounted laundry detergent. Fewer still might invoke Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” on a display banner for an exotic-looking hamburger.
But such is the relationship with New Jerseyans and their food; and particularly with Whole Foods and its customers.
‘From around here’
The company trumpets its core values in monolithic messages that line the walls of the space, from its pursuit of non-genetically modified products to its $25-million low-interest loan program for local food producers and its commitment to the ethical treatment of meat animals.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be prepared every day in an onsite café using ingredients sold in the store. Locally sourced products, like pasta from Severino of Westmont, are stamped with a green dove that reads “From Around Here.”
Five specialty bars feature take-and-go pickles, organic espresso, smoothies, and other snacks made in-house. A bath and beauty bar allows customers to concoct their own aromatic scrubs and can even transmit their personalized recipes to another Whole Foods, where they can be re-created as gifts.
Malloy, who joined Whole Foods after working for a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable seafood, said she “wanted to work for a company that I could get behind their values.”
She pointed to employee benefits like a 20-percent in-store discount (extended to part-timers along with medical insurance and paid time off) as demonstrative of the faith the company extends to its work force. That’s to say nothing of the jobs the store has created: of the 219 people employed at the Cherry Hill location, 138 are new hires.
“Team members are our secret ingredient,” Malloy said.
After 17 years with the company, Jaleel McFadden of Glen Mills, PA, said the Whole Foods customer base is what keeps him engaged day to day.
“Any time you can work in an environment where you have a passion for your product and your customers, it makes it a lot more fun to come to work,” McFadden said.
Even after years spent working in kitchens in Italy, Jerusalem, and even a three-star French-Canadian restaurant in New York, Abe Heller of Narberth, PA, said his personal standards for food “are higher than when I left the restaurant business.”
Food-related professions can be known for their turnover rate, Heller said, which makes him “really proud” of his 11-year tenure with the company.
“[In the restaurant industry], your best people would always be leaving because you didn’t give them a career path,” he said. “I think the only way I’d ever leave [Whole Foods] is if I were starting my own business.”
Were he to do so, Heller might take advantage of The Hatchery, another program new to Whole Foods that’s being offered at the Cherry Hill store. For $5 a day, local entrepreneurs can vend their products directly to Whole Foods customers at an onsite pop-up space. (Philadelphia-based Little Baby’s Ice Cream is booked for the opening week.)
“The community gets to take part in an awful lot here,” said graphic artist Carol Paist.
In the in-store art space—another first for the Cherry Hill store—Paist, a Chicago native and former Whole Foods employee, was logging freelance hours, hand-painting signs with Kelly Franklin of Philadelphia and Monica Kelly of New Orleans.
“It’s all done by hand,” Franklin said. “A lot of people don’t know that.”
All three are former Whole Foods staff illustrators who eventually left to pursue their own artwork; all three agreed that they’d never conceived of finding a fine art job in a grocery store.
“Every day was different,” said Kelly, who worked in the Whole Foods stores in Jenkintown and North Wales, PA.
“There was always a different list of crazy things to do,” she said, adding that the position helped her to improve as an illustrator by learning to “translate people’s ideas into art.”
“They’re leading the edge of teaching consumers about quality of food,” said Patrick Ryan of Fruitwood Orchards Honey, a Monroeville, NJ-based apiary that sells its honey in Whole Foods stores “up and down the east coast.”
Whole Foods seems to be walking its talk on the sustainability front, as well. The roof of the Cherry Hill store is lined with 1,344 solar panels that power the energy-saving doors on its refrigerated cases. Outside, the first few parking spaces are accessible to electric car recharging stations adjacent to the swales and rainwater filtration systems built into the lot.
“In a nice way, [Whole Foods is] being a Ralph Nader,” Ryan said. “They inform people and put a lot of brainpower in.”