Whole Foods forages for local suppliers to stock new Hyannis store

A Whole Foods Market in Plymouth Meeting, Penn. Whole Foods will open a store in Hyannis this spring. — Photo courtesy Whole Foods Marke

Whole Foods Market will make shelf space for Vineyard growers, bakers, cheese makers — anyone who makes a product that fits the requirements of the natural food store, which plans to open its newest market in Hyannis this spring.

Whole Foods, which has a chain of more than 370 stores, will hold a day-long local suppliers summit on March 20 in South Yarmouth to introduce their program to the Cape and Islands. Only 150 people will be admitted and interested parties should sign up as soon as possible, according to a Whole Foods press release.

“We are casting a net as wide and warm and welcoming as we can to people on the Cape and the Islands to bring them in to learn about us and how we do business and what we are looking for,” Lee Kane, self-described EcoCzar/Forager for the market’s North Atlantic region, told the The Times in a telephone call. “We’re eager to be inclusive. We highly favor local suppliers.”

Mr. Kane said more people want to know where their food is coming from. In addition to tagging much of their locally produced food to identify its source, many of their stores organize field trips for customers who would like to visit the local suppliers.

“We try to buy anything we can get locally across all of our departments including meat and seafood where we can make that happen,” he said.

The stringency of their self-imposed standards sometimes make buying local meat and seafood difficult, he said. “We will be doing a lot of seafood from the Vineyard and local meat will depend on how well the local producers conform to our global animal partnership standards that rules the game for our meat program.”

The Whole Foods mission is to sell meat and poultry free of growth hormones and antibiotics, unprocessed grains and cereals, organically grown vegetables and non genetically modified foods and as much locally grown food as possible, Mr. Kane said.

Whole Foods calls the department that deals with local suppliers foragers. They have local foragers across the nation who seek out the best local products. They deal with over 6,500 local vendors, from country farms to urban bakeries, according to the Whole Foods website.

The summit will include a breakfast, and time for informal questions, a presentation on the core values and quality standards of Whole Foods, and how to get products into Whole Foods. Presentations from each of the product teams will give more specific information on what they are looking for, and presentations from existing local supplier partners will show what it is like to work with Whole Foods, the good and the bad, according to Mr. Kane.

There will be a lunch made up of local food after which the group will break into specific product areas to discuss issues particular to each group.

“We really want people to understand what our quality standards are and why they are so important,” Mr. Kane said. “We will work very hard with people to help meet those standards. People may be using artificial flavorings or additives, and we will help them find an alternative that will meet our standards.”

Some suppliers develop twin lines that allow them to maintain their existing products while producing a separate production run for Whole Foods, Mr. Kane said, adding that they try to help their suppliers grow their businesses as well. He said they have $25 million in a local producer loan program to lend to local suppliers who are trying to grow their business or get to a different stage.

To monitor the quality of the supplier production sites, Whole Foods uses both an in-house inspection team and health department reports and certifications from third-party groups like Everclean Services.

The new Whole Foods Market will be on the site of the old Borders Bookstore at 99 Iyannough Road in Hyannis. It will have 28,000 square feet of floor space.

“We’re still pulling all the pieces together,” said Mr. Kane. “We are not sure exactly when we will open, but it will be this spring.”

The summit is Thursday, March 20, 9 am to 3:30 pm at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, 307 Old Main Street, South Yarmouth. It is free and space is limited to 150 people. Registration is required. For questions or a registration form, contact Rachel Hackett at rachel.hackett@wholefoods.com.