Whole Foods Hopes to Stock Shelves with Kansas Products

The company believes in sourcing as much food as possible from within the area because it's fresher and supports the local economy

March 20--As the new Whole Foods Market -- which will be called Bread & Circus in Wichita -- aims to open at 13th and Webb in late summer, the company is seeking local producers to help stock its shelves.

"For those who meet our quality standards, we're thrilled to bring them in," said Heather Larrabee, regional associate marketing coordinator for Whole Foods.

"We believe in sourcing as much food as possible from within the area because it's fresher, it supports the local economy and it builds businesses. We even go so far as to invest our own money through the local producer loan program. Since 2006, we've given $10 million in low-interest, non-collateralized loans."

While in Wichita this week, Larrabee met with representatives from Go Wichita, the K-State extension office and From the Land of Kansas, a Kansas Department of Agriculture program that promotes Kansas products.

The company is looking to make connections with Kansas producers who want to pitch their products at meetings May 7 and 8, Larrabee said.

Go Wichita gathered about 20 Wichita-made products for Larrabee to sample, she said.

"Whether it's a company like Whole Foods or a national travel writer, it's always our goal to show the options and variety our city has to offer," said James Williams, Go Wichita communications manager, who didn't want to go into detail about the products the agency featured.

Whole Foods also wants people to contact the company about their favorite local producers, Larrabee said.

Bread & Circus is also preparing to hire more than 100 people in full- and part-time positions.

In the next two weeks, the store will post openings on its website for associate store team leaders. Other positions will be posted online in the next 30 to 45 days. Team leaders help oversee the various sections of the store, including the bakery, meat and seafood and specialty areas.

The company is currently interviewing for the store manager and community relations coordinator, Larrabee said.

Store Preparations

Company representatives came to Wichita in December 2012 to meet with two focus groups to help determine some of the features of the new store, Larrabee said.

The store's design will "reflect the history and culture and visual renderings of this community. So there will be a focus on the aviation history of the town and you'll see that show up in the decor," Larrabee said.

Whole Foods does not allow hormones or antibiotics in its meat or artificial food coloring or high-fructose corn syrup in its other products, among other things.

"We allow our customers to vote with their fork," Larrabee said.

The Wichita store will be part of the Rocky Mountain Region of Whole Foods, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Idaho and Utah.

"Each (region) operates as an autonomous business unit," Larrabee said. "We have global purchasing teams that do a portion, but regionally there's a ton of empowerment. So the folks coming in May are making those decisions of what products they'll bring in and at what price they'll set them. That's not dictated by our global office in Austin."

The store will be called Bread & Circus because there's already a locally owned store called Whole Foods in Wichita. Bread & Circus is the name of a company that Whole Foods Market purchased in the early 1990s, according to the Whole Foods website.

The original Bread & Circus in Massachusetts sold natural foods and wooden toys.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey--ryan.

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