When news broke of Whole Foods Market’s plans to launch a lower priced chain geared toward Millennials, there were diverging opinions aplenty. The move could be brilliant, securing loyalty from a large shopping group with lots of buying power. It could save the retail giant from its financial slump and help shake off the “Whole Paycheck” nickname.

Or, would the strategy be a mistake? The new stores could create competition for its main stores, steering shoppers toward smaller transactions rather than spurring growth.

The first location of 365 by Whole Foods officially opened on May 25 in the Los Angeles area, with two others scheduled to open by year’s end, 10 more to launch in 2017 and nine others in development. As of press time, less than two weeks had elapsed since the Los Angeles grand opening and I’m very intrigued by what’s going on there. Since I’m an East Coaster, I did a “virtual” visit by reading as much as I could about the opening (1–5).

First ImpressionsI was struck by what I can only describe as an emotionally cold atmosphere. There are fewer employees, meaning less assistance from staff. One report suggested the new store has half the staff a Whole Foods of the same size and location would normally have.

So here’s how that plays out in shopping experience. Want a sandwich? Check the prepackaged deli area; there’s no one around taking orders. Want a special blend tea or a freshly squeezed juice? Do it yourself at a self-serve station (and pay there, too, so you don’t have to waste time interacting with a cashier). Want variety? Try someplace else. There will only be about 7,000 items in stores versus more than 20,000 in a similarly sized Whole Foods Market. Want a recommendation for which wine goes best with your meal? Type your question into the iPad kiosk. A special food order? Back to the kiosk to type in your preferences. Want lower prices? Bingo! You’re in the right place.

I give Whole Foods a whole lot of credit for trying to reinvent itself and think outside the box. I just feel like this store model strips away some of the best parts about what is traditionally a “natural products store” experience. For me, that’s a personal touch, heartfelt staff picks and a true human connection.

I am left wondering if 365 can inspire loyalty and become a “must” shopping destination. Or, will it be just another store? Time will tell. But I can say, if I were given the choice, I might prefer this format for a stock-up every once in while when it’s convenient—but certainly not for a 365-days-a-year choice.WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner Editor/Associate Publisher

References1. P. Lempert, “365 By Whole Foods: 7 Days After Opening, There’s A Lot To Question,” June 2, 2016,www.forbes.com/sites/phillempert/2016/06/02/365-by-whole-foods-the-7-days-after-opening-review-and-there-is-still-a-lot-to-question/#f5b5b9763921, accessed June 5, 2016. 2. S. Masunaga, “First 365 by Whole Foods Opens in Silver Lake,” May 25, 2016,www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-365-store-opening-20160525-snap-htmlstory.html, accessed June 5, 2016. 3. A. Picchi, “Whole Foods Opens Its First Millennial-Inspired Store,” May 25, 2016www.cbsnews.com/news/whole-foods-opens-its-first-millennial-inspired-365-store, accessed June 5, 2016. 4. M. Friedman, “The New, Cheaper Whole Foods Is Officially Open And The Inside Is Amazing,” May 25, 2016, www.delish.com/food-news/a47371/365-by-whole-foods-market-opens-silver-lake, accessed June 5, 2016. 5. B. Tuttle, “10 Ways the New 365 by Whole Foods Store Is Different From Regular Whole Foods,” May 24, 2016,http://time.com/money/4340938/365-by-whole-foods-prices-selection-how-different, accessed June 5, 2016.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine July 2016