The PlanetShifter Interview: Oakland Whole Foods Market Manager Earl Brizee by Willi Paul
Organic bananas, compostable forks, face painting and BBQ parties! Gets Local with Oakland Whole Foods Market Manager Earl Brizee.

Note: I enjoy the wireless, caffeine feed and groovy baristas (almost) every morning at my neighborhood Whole Foods Market on Bay Street, Oakland.

How does WF define localization?

We work with hundreds of local vendors including East West Gourmet and Gelateria Naia Gelato. Also, I wanted to bring your attention to the Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Program - a loan program that is making $10 million available nationally for low-interest loans to small, community-based food producers. In this era of financial instability and with small business loans hard to get, I thought highlighting this program to your small business readers would be very helpful. Whole Foods Market was founded on the concept of fresh, healthy, local food and we remain, to this day, committed to local food and to the producers who supply it.

That said, Whole Foods Market started the program in Feb. 2007 and to date has loaned over $400K to Northern California businesses and over $2 million nationally. Some local recipients include Coracao Confections (, St. Benoît Yogurt ( and Kombucha Botanica ( To our knowledge, no other grocery retailer makes loans to its suppliers. Recipients have used the loans to purchase equipment, for the most part, which has helped them collectively increase production.

Finally, Whole Foods Market has a Local Forager - Harvindar Singh - on staff whose sole duty is to focus on local products. He ensures every Northern California store carries unique, local products and also facilitates the loan program. It's also important to note that thru this program, small business not only get the loan, but they get sage advice from Whole Foods Market regarding sales, marketing and distribution.

What components of the store's sustainability values are working and which ones are not? Why?

Supporting wise environmental practices is part of our core values and strengthens our commitment to be a leader in environmental stewardship. This means making decisions that positively impact the health of our planet, its peoples and its resources. Whole Foods Market is a leader in supporting sustainable agriculture and protecting the environment. We promote and support farming and fishing practices that are earth-friendly and allow for the constant renewal of those resources.

Do your employees get training on green practices?
Whole Foods Market has a Green Mission task force, comprised of Team Members and leadership. Each region and each store continually act on initiatives that support our Green Mission.

  • Regional-based decisions empower Team Members to make decisions locally for their own stores or regions and also stay in tune with the environment of each particular community served by Whole Foods Market.
  • In 2008, the Company held a Green Mission Congress for regional team leaders to gather and refine the company's environmental strategies and goals. Internal and external subject matter experts assisted WFM's Green Mission team to develop goals around green building, packaging, waste minimization, energy and water use reduction, carbon/greenhouse gas reduction, transportation efficiencies and alternatives, Team Member education and customer communication.

Who is your competition?

We view any food retailer as a competitor and we prefer not to talk about specific competitors. At Whole Foods Market, we hold true to our mission to sell the highest quality foods - all free of artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors and preservatives, as well as hydrogenated fats. Our mission is to sell the highest quality foods while finding new ways to celebrate food and offering the best service to our shoppers.

The old cliche' is: "Too expensive!" Your response?

Our prices on like items are very competitive with other retailers. The trick is to compare "organic apples to apples." We select our products based on the highest standards in the business and we work hard to ensure our prices are competitive. So, at Whole Foods Market, you can get more of the good stuff for less. Shoppers will find with our private label products that we often offer lower prices for comparable organic products, and in some cases, our private label prices rival similar non-organic products. With more than 2,000 365 Everyday Value™ products, our customers can enjoy high quality products at the best price.

As value can be found throughout the store, we have instituted several programs/offerings so that our customers know how to find value as well as how to shop for healthy foods on a budget. A few of these include:

  • "The Whole Deal™" value guide which highlights great product steals and offers money-saving coupons and tips, and budget recipes to help shoppers continue to enjoy quality organic and natural foods while stretching their food dollar
  • Value Tours: In-store "Value Gurus" lead Value Tours to show customers how to find the best deals and enjoy savings
  • Promotion of 365 Everyday Value® items, the company's private label brand which has over 1,000 items ranging from tofu and milk to tortillas and cereal.
  • Promotion of family packs, value packs, and weekly promotions and deals

Does eating healthy and local have to be expensive?

No, it doesn't. Our volume pricing, and commitment to buying local, allows us to offer lower prices for comparable organic products, and in some cases, our prices rival similar non-organic products.

Also, here are some tips we give customers to help them shop:

1. SHOP THE SPECIALS - Each store has weekly and bi-weekly specials, which can be found online and in the stores' flyers.

2. SAVE WITH THE SEASONS - It is cheaper to shop seasonally. It also pays to know when the "peak" of the season for fruit and vegetables are in your region.

3. CHECK OUT STORE BRANDS - All of the Company's private label products must adhere to high quality standards while offering great value 365 days a year.

4. WASTE NOT, WANT NOT - Buy bargains in quantity and freeze extra product. When shopping, think about creative ways to use leftovers, giving them new life in soups, salads and sandwiches.

5. BULK UP - Shop the bulk grocery bins, which can frequently be more economical. But, don't forget to compare prices in bulk to 365 Everyday Value™ as store brands can be less expensive at times.

What do you do with food that you can no longer sell?

We donate to local food banks and work with a local organization called Food Not Bombs -- they come in daily for the food and distribute to local shelters and other places in need.

As an almost daily user of the wireless and coffee combo at the store, I wonder if the Café' is really cost effective?

We are not at liberty to discuss any sales related information.

How is the web site working for in-store sales? How does management measure this?

We are not at liberty to discuss any sales related information.

Who thought of putting the white picket fence outside?! That's a tough spot to hang-out, with the sun and traffic!

We felt the fence defined the seating area and makes it feel warm.

Do you have enough parking? You once told me that the LOT FULL sign (level 1) was broken and that it wasn't worth fixing!

We have two levels of parking which seems to be enough.

I love the outside BBQ's. When is the next one?

Our 2nd Anniversary is coming up with a planned BBQ celebration on Sept. 20 from 11 am to 2 pm. Check out the store website for more information.