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LONDON -- Londoners were officially introduced to the Whole Foods shopping experience yesterday, as the Austin, Texas-based natural and organic foods supermarket opened its flagship United Kingdom store in central London.
The 80,000-square-foot store is the first Whole Foods Market in Europe and marks a major step in expanding the company's brand beyond North America. Whole Foods currently operates 189 stores in the United States and Canada, as well as five Fresh & Wild shops in the U.K.
The retailer is looking to grow even further via an acquisition of Wild Oats, its largest competitor in the States, but the Federal Trade Commission is trying to block the proposed sale.
In London, Whole Foods hopes to make a strong impression out of the gate. "Whole Foods is committed to the goal of being the finest food shop in every community we serve, and our new London store will offer a fresh, vibrant choice," said John Mackey, Whole Foods c.e.o. and co-founder, in a statement. "We hope Whole Foods will continue to prompt change in the way people think about and shop for food."
The new store opened yesterday at 10 a.m. following a bread-breaking ceremony. It is spread across three floors within the historic Barkers building on High Street Kensington. The space is restored and updated, while retaining its unique art deco styling.
The ground floor includes an in-house bakery within "Provision Hall," a name used for the ground level at the original Barkers store. Provision Hall also features a cheese room, a wine and cheese bar, and many deli and prepared items. A team of 55 in-store chefs will create a broad range of restaurant-quality prepared foods at Market Kitchen.
Downstairs is "Market Hall," which features a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, extensive meat and fish selections, and more than 10,000 grocery items. Along the produce department is a large self-service bulk foods center where shoppers can select just the amount they desire from nearly 100 options including nuts, oats, and grains. Shoppers can mix their own muesli and grind their own nut butters.
At the London store, Whole Foods is launching its new Five-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program, which allows shoppers to understand how the meats they are buying were raised and treated.
Also within Market Hall is Whole Body, the company's range of natural and organic body care and cosmetics.
A vibrant food hall on the top floor features 13 dining venues with seating for more than 350 diners. Among the selection: a tapas bar, a champagne and oyster bar, the pub, and the sushi and dim sum eatery.
Fulfilling Whole Foods' store-based buying program, the new unit features many products that are sourced from inside the UK.
"Our Fresh & Wild stores have long been a part of the food community in London, and we have developed long-term, fruitful relationships with local growers and producers," said Rick Bonin, executive store team leader at Whole Foods Market in London. "The result is an exciting and plentiful array of organic and UK-grown food."