The smaller, less expensive store format debuts Wednesday at Bellevue Square, the only one of the three rolled out so far that’s in a mall.
Convenience seems to be the driving principle behind 365 by Whole Foods Market, which opens its first Washington store Wednesday at Bellevue Square.
The smaller, less expensive sibling of the organic-food grocer Monday gave the news media an advance tour of the store, its third.
The emphasis on convenience was apparent: a large prepared-foods section placed front and center; scales where customers can weigh produce and generate their own bar codes; kiosks to order hot foods; salad bars where customers pay by the container, not by weight; and low aisles so that people can more quickly see where they need to go.
“You don’t even need to rub the salmon yourself,” said Natanya Anderson, executive director of marketing for the 365 stores, talking about the spice-rubbed salmon for sale.
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This 365 is targeting nearby office workers and residents, mall workers and mall shoppers rounding out a day of errands.
It’s an important initiative for the Austin, Texas-based chain that’s fighting to remain competitive at a time when everyone from Wal-Mart to Costco to Kroger is expanding their organics selections, while specialty stores such as Trader Joe’s are also chomping away at its market share.
Whole Foods’ share price tumbled about 36 percent over the course of the last year, and sales growth at stores open at least a year declined quarter by quarter last year. The 365 stores are a bid to turn that around.
Anderson said it was difficult to say how much lower prices are, on average, at 365 compared with traditional Whole Foods stores, given that items go on sale at Whole Foods.
But some items noticed by those on Monday’s media tour seemed slightly cheaper. And 365 carries the less expensive brands of items carried in its bigger sibling’s stores.
The 365 store in Bellevue has 400 wines under $20. Salads and hot-bar items are priced per container, rather than by weight.
A rewards program, which customers join online, entitles shoppers to 10 percent off items on the ends of each aisle (usually “fun” items such as rice ramen or malt cider); “buy 10, get one free” deals on rotisserie chicken, Organic Girl salad greens, Evolution Fresh juices and Driscoll berries; and special offers.
Wild Ginger Kitchen, which will offer fast-casual Asian foods and customized bowls, will open in the store in October.
So far, the Bellevue location is the only 365 in a mall. The other two — in Los Angeles and Lake Oswego, Ore., near Portland, are in former grocery-store buildings. They opened earlier this year.
The variety of locations “allows us to test different markets and see what works,” Anderson said.
At a fraction of the size of traditional Whole Foods stores, the 365 locations cost less to build and operate.
The goal is to build them in half the time, at half the cost, of a traditional store, Jeff Turnas, president of 365 by Whole Foods Market, said Monday.
The company plans to open 10 more 365 stores by the end of 2017.
At the Bellevue store, the space feels more open than at traditional Whole Foods stores, with concrete floors and walls painted with bold, primary colors.
The store carries fewer items than its older sibling: 7,000 compared with some 25,000 at the traditional stores.
The smaller stores carry the more value-oriented 365 house brand, as well as a selection of other brands of products.
Is the company afraid the 365 store will cannibalize the larger Whole Foods store nearby?
No, Anderson said, adding, “We think it will be a ‘yes and.’ ”