By RICH MONETTI
At some point, the conventions under which farmers operated stopped being something that anchored the consciousness of what it meant to be an American, but the rise of the organic food movement has us on the road back, and, as much as Whole Foods is obviously driven to be financially successful, they take pride in doing their part to rouse us into remembering that everything starts with what we put in our bodies.
The newest Whole Foods store is slated to open in Port Chester next week.
“If people are now thinking about where their food is coming from and if they’re thinking about how good their food is, then they are thinking in the right way. We’re definitely happy about that.” Whole Foods’ Northeast Spokesman Michael Sinatra said.
Whole Foods has no reason to be shy about their place on the ground floor of this societal shift.
“The organic labels we put on things are in compliance with the USDA,” Sinatra said. “We’re America’s first organic grocery store, so we have an incredibly high volume of things that are USDA-certified organic, and that’s the only standard we abide by.”
Of course, with any discussion of organic food comes the concern over price comparisons.
“We’re very, very competitive,” Sinatra said.
Customers have to be careful to not look at items like the $40 can of olive oil from Italy or Spain, and nullify Sinatra’s assertion.
“You’ll see we have a lot of high end, gourmet items,” he said. That means the olive oil priced at $5.99 is among Whole Foods’ wide variety of “365 everyday value items.”
Claiming equally high standards for either selection, customers do not have to take Sinatra’s word for this. Working with a number of third-party organizations like the Global Animal Partnership, the outside objective accounting of produce, meats and fish are there for all to see.
Transparency is incredibly important to Whole Foods, Sinatra said.
“Those rating systems help ensure quality.”
Whole Foods also establishes a link from the farmers that produce the food to the customers who buy it. Using very visible signage and providing ample background information on producers, Sinatra believes this contributes not only a personal touch to each purchase, but adds another layer of assurance.
“It’s great to know the story behind the food, not just for anecdotal purposes, but to feel good about the food you’re eating,” he said.
Customers don’t have to worry that Whole Foods farming infrastructure is untested just because the Port Chester store is new to the scene.
“With so many other stores in southern Connecticut, New York City, Westchester and New Jersey,” Sinatra said, “we have great relationships throughout the area.”
Nonetheless, no matter where Whole Foods exists, using local farms always takes precedence, though there obviously aren’t a lot of tomatoes growing at Stone Barns or Blue Hill Farms once frost hits the New York heartland. While it encourages customers to shop seasonally, Whole Foods knows some of us cannot do without tomatoes among a number of other off-season goods, so they stick with the old adage about the customer always being right.
“Sometimes that requires us to bring products in from different places, even from around the world,” Sinatra said.
Regardless, looking afar doesn’t mean the company ever forgets the community in which it lives. Food drives are commonplace and local charitable giving usually amounts to about 5 percent of Whole Foods’ sales. The company also gets the kids involved by donating healthy gardens to schools, where they learn about healthy eating, organic farming and the importance of environmental sustainability.
“We believe strongly in giving back to the community,” Sinatra said.
The impact a Whole Foods has on the local economy cannot be overlooked either, according to Port Chester Mayor Neil Pagano, a Republican.
“The introduction of Whole Foods into our market represents a major shot in the arm for the business community,” he said about Whole Foods’ newest location on Boston Post Road in Port Chester near I-95 and the Rye City border.
Local businesses like Maselli’s Deli are happy just to have Whole Foods adding something to the local economy. “It should be good. They do good business and they’ll bring more people in the neighborhood,” says owner Clino Maselli, whose business sits nearby Whole Foods.
Additionally, the new store can only open up more job opportunities for Port Chester residents. In turn, the mayor doesn’t necessarily see Whole Foods as a competitor to existing grocery stores, but rather a sound alternative for Port Chester residents to explore.
Sinatra is only too happy to be part of the village’s menu of grocery options and is confident of the reception the new Whole Foods will receive.
“The main thing is to come in and check it out,” he said.