October 2014

Whole Foods Hilton Head Island :More than a grocery store: a fun and healthy place to shop

Author: Courtney Hillis | Photographer: Photography by Anne

It may be the greatest thing since sliced bread—well, gluten-free sliced bread. Specializing in unique, hard to find, healthy and organic foods, Whole Foods Market Hilton Head Island opened its doors on July 30, and the response has been overwhelming.

Operating from its core values, which include strong vendor relations, local partnerships, quality natural and organic products, team member excellence and happiness, and environmental stewardship, Whole Foods Market exemplifies what the Hilton Head community already embodies. The health food store brings much to the area, adding jobs, assisting local farmers and providing a healthier option for grocery shopping.

Location and offerings
The organic powerhouse is located at Shelter Cove Plaza in the space previously occupied by Piggly Wiggly. The store has been completely renovated.

“All of our stores are like a custom built home. They are all so unique to the community,” store team leader Brett Peterson said. Appropriately, the Hilton Head Island store has an island look and feel, from the team member’s anchor shirts to the nautical décor. This is the third store Peterson has opened in the last two-and-a-half years. In fact, Whole Foods Hilton Head is the first of five stores throughout the Southeast opening over the next several months.

Many people have commented on the size of the store; however, it is only 1,000 square feet smaller than its Savannah neighbor. Whole Foods Hilton Head has a unique feature that makes it feel smaller but also makes it more energy efficient, and that is a dropped ceiling.

Though the space may seem small, it is open and easy to navigate with a large selection. The market offers 250 different hand-cut cheeses—“some of the best cheeses you can get anywhere,” Peterson said. The store also has the largest craft beer selection on the island, according to Abby Wirth, marketing team leader and community liaison, and even has a growler fill-up station with an assortment of local beers. The floral department, which is starting to provide arrangements for weddings, is unparalleled in its variety. The bakery department will soon offer wedding cakes as well. The produce is unbeatable, and the meat and fish are of the highest quality. There is a comfortable dining area with a number of hot and cold food items available should you want to stay for a meal. Whole Foods Hilton Head also offers organic clothing and eco-friendly toys, as well as health and beauty items.

The store is always changing, seeing what works and increasing its selection. If there is something you want that the store does not currently offer, make a request at the service desk or online.

Local suppliers
In keeping with Whole Foods’ core values, America’s Healthiest Grocery Store ™ loves local vendors and views them as true partners. Whole Foods Hilton Head has five local suppliers for its bakery department alone. They also sell grass-fed beef from the nearby farm, Hunter Cattle. The store is always looking for and adding new local vendors. In fact, before the store opened, the leadership team walked the farmers market several times to develop relationships and build partnerships with local farmers. The company offers local producer loan programs designed to help vendors and businesses meet Whole Foods’ quality standards and become partners. More information on becoming a supplier can be found on the Whole Foods website.

Quality and value
Quality standards are extremely important to Whole Foods. The website states, “We have high standards and our goal is to sell the highest quality products we possibly can. We define quality by evaluating the ingredients, freshness, safety, taste, nutritive value and appearance of all of the products we carry. We are buying agents for our customers and not the selling agents for the manufacturers.”

Strict guidelines are set forth and can be reviewed on the company website. These guidelines list exactly what ingredients are not allowed in the store. For example, everything in the store must meet the Company’s Quality Standards: no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives, and no hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.

From left to right: Craft beer selection; delicious pastries in the bakery; A Local Producer Loan Program recipient out of Asheville, NC.

Whole Foods Market has also taken the lead when it comes to labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs). By 2018, Whole Foods has pledged to label all of its products containing GMO’s, making it the first national grocery retailer to set a deadline for full GMO transparency. “We heard our customers loud and clear, and this is something that they want. They see us as an industry leader, so we are affecting change where we can, which is in our stores, and working with our supplier partners,” said Peterson.

Contrary to what you may have heard, it is possible to shop on a budget at Whole Foods. Saving is easy if you shop Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value® line and follow weekly and weekend sales. “It’s all about offering choices, “says Peterson. “For example, we sell a wide variety of higher-end artisan cheeses, but we also sell shredded cheddar at a competitive price. My wife and I shop for a family of six on a budget, and we shop exclusively at Whole Foods Market.”

The market also offers value tours to teach customers how to get the “biggest bang for your buck,” according to Wirth. The tours are free and open to the public. Sign up for the Whole Foods Hilton Head newsletter and follow them on social media for updates on values.

The next best thing to home-cooking! Whole Foods Hilton Head offers prepared food for breakfast and lunch that can be taken to-go or enjoyed leisurely on site at one of their many indoor or outdoor tables.

Team members
Whole Foods Market prides itself on positive morale and a fun, positive team atmosphere. With starting pay at $11 an hour and excellent benefits, the store created 120 new jobs for the area. Furthermore, all previous Piggly Wiggly employees were given the opportunity to interview with the health food store. “Recruiting and building the most dynamic leaders and creating excellence” are Peterson’s big passions. “Many people start out as part-time team members and end up developing careers out of it,” he said. “Our people are what make us different.”

Whole Foods Market also gives back to the community. “It’s about people first and the community in which we serve,” Peterson said. The company donates to various charities and likes to support grassroots, local non-profits that have small budgets. One day per quarter, five percent of sales goes to charity; and at the bread breaking ceremony, the store made a generous donation to the Island Rec Center.

Whole Foods Market is also proud of its Whole Kids Foundation, which works on developing partnerships with teachers and education leaders to create salad bars and gardening programs in schools. Peterson wants to create an impact and be an example for the community, and he plans to do this by making Whole Foods Hilton Head a zero-waste facility.

The store makes daily food donations to Second Helpings and Providence Presbyterian Church. The team leaders of the store also participate in volunteer work out of the store each quarter, and there are countless events at Whole Foods Hilton Head in which the money raised is given to charity. A calendar with all events can be found on the website.

Whole Foods Market is plastic-free at checkout, and customers receive 10 cents for each reusable bag used per visit. The plastic bags in the produce section are compostable. The company also plans to have all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeled by 2018. In fact, their 365 brand is sourced to avoid GMOs.
Whole Foods Market Hilton Head is not just a grocery store; it is a friendly, social hangout. People are talking in the aisles, eating lunch, and meeting up with friends. The atmosphere is calming and fun at the same time, which makes a trip the grocery store enjoyable rather than a dreaded chore. 

For more information, visit wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/hiltonheadisland or find Whole Foods Hilton Head on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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