US’s Whole Foods to expand UK presence

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 15th April 2010

US natural and organic retailer Whole Foods Market has reportedly confirmed its ambition to expand further into the UK market.

Whole Foods co-president Walter Robb told the Financial Times that the company was eyeing locations that are smaller than the 75,000 sq ft store in London’s Kensington district.

The retailer opened the Kensington store in 2007 to much fanfare but, amid the global economic downturn and losses from its UK venture, the company put the brakes on any further expansion in the country.

However, Robb told the FT that Whole Foods was now “working” on expanding its business in the UK capital.

“We want to build more stores in London, it’s a fabulous city,” Robb said. “It’s harder to find real estate there… but we have some stuff there and we’re working on it.”

Officials at Whole Foods in the UK and the US could not be reached for comment as just-food went to press.

Whole Foods Market was founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, and expanded outside the state with the acquisition of Whole Food Company in New Orleans in 1988. After string of acquisitions, in 2002, the company crossed US borders for the first time with a move into Canada.

In 2004, Whole Foods crossed the pond, buying seven Fresh & Wild stores in the UK. Three years later, the company opened its first Whole Foods store in the UK in London. The business now has over 270 stores in North America and the UK.

2007 also saw Whole Foods snap up rival retailer Wild Oats Markets, a deal that was bitterly opposed by US regulators on competition grounds. A US court cleared the merger but, as of August 2008, questions hang over the deal after a US appeals court overturned the ruling that approved the transaction. US regulators could still yet get their way.

Reports of Whole Foods’ renewed interest in UK expansion comes after it was announced that UK organic sales fell by almost 13% in 2009.

However, last Monday, UK certification body The Soil Association insisted that demand was showing some signs of returning as the UK economy moved out of recession.

just-food is the world’s leading portal for the global pre-packaged food and retail industries. Its daily mix of breaking news, views, analysis and research serves over 100,000 food executives each month.