Natural foods juggernaut Whole Foods Market Inc. will be coming to San Luis Obispo in the next few weeks, after owners announced March 31 that they’d bought four New Frontiers Natural Marketplace stores.
The Austin-based nationwide chain will purchase the San Luis Obispo New Frontiers store in the Irish Hills Plaza on Los Osos Valley Road, as well as three stores in Arizona. The owners of New Frontiers will keep a lone remaining store in Solvang and continue operating their organic farm in Buellton. The small chain was doing well, and the owners decided to sell the four stores so they could have more time to focus on their farm and their lives, said Amy LaBouee, a Whole Foods store team leader overseeing the transition.
“Over the years, when I have at times wondered if our stores would someday merge with a larger strategic partner, Whole Foods Market has always been my premier choice,” Jonathan King, president of New Frontiers, said in a media statement. “We are very enthusiastic about their ability to take our stores into a successful future.”
New Frontiers expanded its store dramatically when it moved from its previous location at University Square near Cal Poly to the present location in 2010. The store currently covers roughly 32,000 square-feet and employs about 180 people. Those involved in the transaction declined to say how much Whole Foods will be paying for the purchase, or how much is paid to rent the property. LaBouee told New Times that those currently working at the store will be offered jobs as part of what they hope will be a relatively seamless transition. Some employees may even get a pay bump since starting pay for the chain is $11 an hour. As far as when the shiny new green Whole Foods sign will be hoisted up onto the building, that will have to wait until the sale is finalized.
Buying smaller chains has been a recent strategy for Whole Foods, which has done so in communities that were previously passed over for lack of a general demand for the specialty store, LaBouee said.
In the end, the transition “makes good sense” and will be “mutually beneficial” for both companies, LaBouee explained, speaking on behalf of Whole Foods.
“We’re definitely interested in selling the highest quality, best tasting food on the planet, and taking a lot of pride in that,” LaBouee said.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay