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[18 comments]

Whole Foods Launches Foodie Adventure Tours

November 19, 2012

Whole Foods Market recently launched Whole Journeys, travel ventures that promise food lovers and culture buffs new ways to discover "what travel should taste like."

Whole Journeys' first departures start in April 2013 with trips to a Turkish food festival, an epicurean biking tour in Italy, and a hike following the historic tea and horse caravan road in China. Each itinerary incorporates unique accommodations, local guides (when possible) and visits to native farms, wineries and cheese makers.

"Travelers walk, hike or bike through as they explore the foods, farms and events that make a region unique," Whole Foods said in a statement. "Whole levels of exertion and food experiences vary, all itineraries are designed to support local communities, respect the environment and encourage travelers to share each destination's unique food cultures with one another and the food producers themselves."

Itineraries run from five days to two weeks. Competitively priced with other adventure travel tours at $3,000 to $4,500 each, trips accommodate up to 16 guests. Travelers book their own airfare but guides, visits, hotels and most meals are included. More trips are being planned in the U.S. and South America in the future.

"We're all about authentic experiences and rich cultural connections," said Kathy Dragon, executive director of Whole Journeys and a 20-year veteran of the adventure/experiential travel industry. "I encourage guests to open themselves to the culture in each destination, and share their own perspective with the people there. When the trip is over, everyone comes away with a wider worldview and, hopefully, a deeper appreciation for global diversity and food culture and traditions."

Whole Foods appears to be the first grocer to offer such adventure tours. REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, Orvis, Bass Pro and Cabela's offer tours in the outdoor retail space. Dick's Sporting Goods recently partnered with several key vendors in introducing "Adventures of a Lifetime" travel packages.

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:WFMI] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the opportunity around foodie adventure tours for supermarkets? Is there an opportunity for traditional grocers as well? What are the pros and cons of the adventure travel business for retailers in general?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's the likelihood that other grocers will launch adventure travel tours similar to that of Whole Foods?

Comments:

Adventure tours have been around for a while and have been offered by a variety of specialty retailers. Not sure there is a market for most supermarkets to follow Whole Foods' lead because so few generate the relationship with their customers that Whole Foods has been able to.

If a retailer is going to do this, I suggest they look at it as strictly a marketing effort and not a profit maker. The photos, etc., from the trip can be used in at the stores in various media and promotional efforts, and their value for those purposes will far outweigh any small profit that could be generated.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

I can see where there would be a fit for foodie adventure tours for Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, perhaps others...I don't know. The concept is consistent with its image and its effort to introduce unusual options to its customers. So I can see the transference of foodie adventures from inside the store to out in the real world. But I don't see the fit for Stop & Shop or Price Chopper, et al.

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Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

Few grocers could successfully offer foodie adventure tours, and Whole Foods is one of those few. In order to do this, the retailer has to stand for something. WF stands for quality food that is good for you. Offering food-themed tours seems like a natural brand extension.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Whole Foods does new things to keep their aura lively. Adventure tours fits well into their agenda ... but, for supermarkets, it would just be another "me too" distraction.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

This is a natural extension of the way one thinks about Whole Foods, a healthy diet and a change in lifestyle for most of us. I think this works well for them, but for the average supermarket chain, a bit of a stretch for them. Many of the larger chains in Europe offer travel packages but normally in partnership with a local or major travel agency and offering discounts to loyal customers. Now that may work better for the North American supermarket chains. Costco offers travel packages for its members, so why not a supermarket chain?

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

Everyone is so smart this morning! From Steve right on down to Gene, who have posted as I write this, you're all so correct and brilliant there's nothing more for me to say. Darn. And I was looking forward to this one, too.

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Warren Thayer, Editor & Managing Partner, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

What an interesting idea for Whole Foods. Success will depend upon how well foodies respond to the offer and how well Whole Food executes the tours. The danger for Whole Foods is that planning and executing adventure travel tours is not their core competence and success will be based, in large part, on their execution of the tours.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

The consumption of food is a significant part of the American way of life. Food is central to every celebration from birth through graduation through marriage through death. The Whole Foods Adventure Tour reinforces its image as the "Foodie" place.

Traditional retailers can do the same on a more local or regional basis. For example, the tour could focus on regional festivals focusing on ethnic foods and cultures, regional wines or even historic events (showcasing foods of the period). Instead of going to Italy or China, the tour could be localized with direct instore connections to the visited event. The only limit is one's imagination, taking this interesting concept, adapting and then adopting to fit the needs of the tradtional grocer.

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Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

This is an interesting idea for the right retailer. A Whole Foods can pull it off, and maybe Trader Joe's.

Such programs don't really fit traditional supermarkets which have enough on their plate to deal with these days. For them, it's better to build their brand by focusing on "foodie" programs in-store, such as cooking demos, sampling, nutritional tours, etc.

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John Karolefski, Editor in Chief, CPGmatters.com

If you know your customers and provide them offers they will be interested in, then this approach could be successful, but only to a small degree, if the offers are multi-thousand dollar trips.

It might be more successful and productive to weave in some local and regional events that a wider range of customers could participate in -- and offer prizes during those events to send a few winners to the more expensive adventure.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

I can see how this would work as a marketing platform for Whole Foods, but I could not imagine traditional supermarket chains doing this successfully. Whole Foods, like Trader Joe's, has quite a branded image and customer loyalty. And because of this, they can promote the excursions using social media and in-store promotion. It would be a great cross promotion after the trips to then sell the products and/or similar foods that were eaten by the travelers. Of course, supermarket retailers should probably remain focused on what they are doing with their current business and leave the adventure travel to the adventure travel agencies.

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

I think Professor George summed it up nicely. This makes sense for the Foodies segment at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or a regional like Wegmans, but would not resonate with a value/price shopper elsewhere -- it needs to fit in the brand's image.

For the traditional supermarket, consideration for local opportunities to food festivals and farmer markets and so on may be a way to raise awareness and increase the emotional bond between shopper/community and brands/stores. National grocers need to give their districts/regions marketing support in generating and executing such ideas (like politics, all competition is local).

As grocers look for points of differentiation, this ought to be on the list. How they make it happen will be a bit trickier.

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

This is a great venture for Whole Foods to make, however, other grocers maybe not so much. The right brands for this type of venture would need to be subject matter experts worthy of gaining the customer's loyalty in specific areas.

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

This shows the opportunity for business extensions when you are the leading, premium brand in your space. This should work well for Whole Foods, but I would caution other grocers to think carefully before diverting focus and resources towards a business that they will know little about.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

I think this is a great idea. It leverages the notion that Whole Foods is more than just a retailer, but it's an expert guide exploring the world for its foodie customers. The vast majority of customers won't go, of course, but the knowledge that they *could* go will inform their brand experience.

The ones who do go are probably going to be key influencers. It will be up to Whole Foods to encourage and facilitate them being as influential as possible. I'd like to see them working to give this the highest-possible social media profile, for example.

Will others do it? Nah, it's too much trouble for almost any of them. Central Market, in TX, or Wegmans in the NE could do it. We might see more travel promotions along the lines of, "Go with one of our buyers..."

Anything that builds that sense of community between shoppers and retailers -- especially in the food/wine area -- will pay off if executed well.

Mark Gardiner, Communications Strategist, revolutionaryoldidea.com

While most of the commentators here have recognized how and why this works for WF (and wouldn't work for other grocers), I think the question is too limiting in fixating on the food angle and ignoring the example of the outdoor retailers. Why couldn't Saks or Nordstrom offer "fashionista adventure tours" to Milan and Paris, Tom Shane and his sonorous voice a "jewelery wardrobe" journey to Tel Aviv and Bangkok, or Apple a "techie trip" to one of its factories in China? Well, maybe the last wouldn't work out so well, but I think the first of these has some merit.

'notcom'

Great idea, perfect fit for Whole Foods. This is not for all retailers. Other supermarkets that should consider this concept include Trader Joe's and Wegmans. Pros include a unique bond with your customers. True loyally builder. Cons include if you don't take it seriously it will fail and worse, it will hurt brand image and loyalty. I would suggest retailers that want to investigate this type of offering look to partner with an industry expert who can deliver the travel component while you contribute the trip theme. Can't wait to book my trip!

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John Boccuzzi, Jr., Managing Partner, Boccuzzi, LLC

Love reading through the discussion and comments here. Very insightful. We agree that bringing the stories back into the stores will be key, and that it will come down to how we execute the trips. These have all been custom designed from the ground up and I think they are unique and will represent Whole Foods well. Appreciate your feedback.

Kathy Dragon, Executive Director, Whole Journeys

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