A grocery store is a grocery store, right? Well, not exactly.
Take Whole Foods, for instance. Open since last September, the chain prides itself of being “America’s healthiest grocery store.” That, says Marketing Team Leader Melissa Brown, tends to scare some shoppers.
Melissa said she is one of those who, before beginning work at the grocery store, didn’t have the healthiest diet. She may not have necessarily equated healthy food with bad taste, but she did think — like many Whole Foods newbies — that changing her diet would mean spending more money.
“I’ll be honest with you, I did not eat this way or shop this way until I worked here and realized, ‘Wow, I can afford this.’ And not only can I afford this, but since I’ve been working here I feel so much better,” she said. “I pretty much eat a Whole Foods diet, for the most part.”
Although not every item at Whole Foods — whether to buy and take home or to eat in the store at one of their many indoor and outdoor seating areas — is organic, the store focuses on providing customers with a variety of healthy that are non-GMO (genetically modified organisms; the most well-known instance of a GMO food is dairy milk that comes from cows who are often injected with hormones to make them produce more) and have few preservatives. The store also strives to be able to tell customers as much as they possibly can about where foods like meat and produce come from.
“You can ask any one of us and, even if they don’t have the answer right off, they’ll find someone who does because we want people to know the differentiators,” Melissa said. “A lot of people don’t know too that we’re very conscious of how animals are raised and how the food is prepared. We can tell you down to where the fish is caught and that it’s less than 24 hours out of the water, how it was raised, taken care of and prepared.”
“If you come in here and are unsure about a product, we want you to take that product at no cost and try it. Because if you like it, you’re going to come back and buy it. And that’s generally what happens,” she said. “I think generally people are just timid or they think, ‘Oh, it’s overpriced’ but, really, we have our 365 products and we can show you. We have an Eating on a Budget tour and, if you give us a list, we can take you through and show you how to purchase all those items at little or no difference to anywhere else in Augusta.”
Tours are part of Whole Foods’ community outreach program, a program that also sets it apart from other grocery stores. Besides the Shopping on a Budget Tour, they have a variety of tours for adults and kids that patrons can schedule by visiting the customer service desk near the checkout lines.
“If you have any eating sensitivities, we have a healthy eating educator that will take you on a tour based upon your diet and kind of show you how to shop,” Melissa explained. “We get a lot of people with gluten free diets and we don’t necessarily keep a certain area of gluten-free products, so we’ll take you through and show you where they are. We’ve had the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts come in and do tours for little kids, just to take them through and let them look at stuff. They especially liked the fish.”
Weekly and monthly activities are their specialty, though, a list of which can be found on their website, in a flyer just inside the entrance and on a chalkboard in the dining area. Each week they have Tasty Tuesday, a contest in which each department makes a dish and customers vote on which had the best one. At a recent Tasty Tuesday, the prepared foods department won the chili cookoff, which earned them the right to take their recipe to the Chilly Chili Cookoff at Evans Towne Center Park.
The event allows customers to taste ingredients that might not otherwise try, and also allows them to get recipes for any dish they especially like.
On Fridays, they offer a Chef’s Series combined with a 5 for $5 wine tasting.
“Basically, our seafood department team leader comes over here to the Brews and Bites section and he does a food demonstration where he’ll cook a dish right in front of you and you get to taste it,” she said. “We set up a 5 for $5 wine tasting with that, so you get to try five new wines for $5. And it’s a decent amount of wine, too.”
Once or twice a month on Saturdays, they’ll offer an arts and crafts drop-in activity, so kids will have something fun to do while their parents shop.
“We try to tailor it to whatever the theme of the month is, so the next one we’re going to do is a Valentine’s Day one,” Melissa said. “We’ll probably do a craft and then a little cupcake or cookie decorating, so that should be fun.”
The month of February also kicks off the store’s Whole Planet Foundation initiative. The foundation is a nonprofit established by Whole Foods that hopes to alleviate poverty through microcredit to communities around the world who supply the store with products. The Augusta store will kick off the fundraising effort with a carnival on February 21 beginning at noon that will include kids activities, a Giving Grill and contests like Putting Away Poverty.
Between regular and special events, which also include live music on Friday and Saturday nights during months with warmer weather, Five Percent Day once a quarter and weekly story times for kids, Whole Foods is attempting to integrate into the Augusta community and prove that it’s a place for more than just grocery shopping.
“We feel like that’s how we connect with the area we’re in is to be able to partner with the community and be a part of it as much as we can,” Melissa said. “So a lot of the events that we do are to bring people in here so that they feel it’s a family oriented environment and can come here and enjoy an evening. Not just shopping but, you know, spending time with the family.”
2907 Washington Road
8 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week