Whole Foods Wellness Club Focuses on Consumer Education

Discussion
Aug 17, 2011
George Anderson

What does $739 get you at Whole Foods?

It gets you a one-year membership ($199 one-time processing fee plus $45 a month) in the natural grocery store chain’s new Wellness Club in Dedham, MA.

The new program, developed for the company by two physicians and a registered dietitian, includes a lifestyle evaluation, nutrition education, coaching. skill-builldng classes, Supper Clubs with healthy four-course meals, and a 10 percent discount on food in the store.

"We are extremely excited to help build this program," said Matthew Lederman, M.D., in a press release, "The overall structure, support system and team that we have in place will help address individual needs, inspire changes in lifestyle and help members reach their optimum health."

John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, said, "This is like nothing the grocery world has ever seen before and we’re thrilled to offer it to our communities and to be a pioneer in the effort of providing support for our shoppers."

The Wellness Club program includes introductory nutrition classes, a four-week "immersion" period that is followed by a four-week "experimental" phase, emphasizing how members can lead healthier lives.

"We’ve found that providing the support of like-minded individuals greatly increases the success rate for people looking to make positive lifestyle changes," said Alona Pulde, M.D. "Supper Clubs, interactive classes and practical skill building in this type of group setting is part of what makes this program so unique."

The Dedham store as well as others planned in Chicago, New York City, Princeton, NJ and Oakland, CA plan to seek out local partners in areas such as yoga and fitness to offer lectures and classes on site.

Whole Foods will make the decision whether to add other locations following a test of the first five Wellness Clubs.

Discussion Questions: Is the Wellness Club a program that will work at Whole Foods and other grocery stores? What do you think are the keys to success for a program of this type to succeed?

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20 Comments on "Whole Foods Wellness Club Focuses on Consumer Education"


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Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I think it is a terrific opportunity for grocery stores. We have let the drug stores grab the “wellness” mantle and in so doing, take grocery share as well. Instead of treatment, the concept of wellness and disease prevention by a combination of good foods and an exercise regimen is the antidote to develop a successful point of difference by grocery stores in their battle with drug stores for share of mind, share of stomach, and share of wallet.

A bold move by Whole Foods but maybe not so much of a stretch for the company given its positioning in the marketplace.

Let’s see other retailers widen this path to the customer.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I’m thinking one may have bigger problems in one’s life if you need to resort to your local grocery store to evaluate your life and tell you how to lead it.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I like it. Very innovative. My hunch is that it will work well on a small scale. Achieving uniform, mass-scale success with this kind of program may be difficult (like achieving uniform educational excellence across many schools – very challenging). Kudos to them for developing the program.

Can others do this? Not many grocers have the license to venture into people’s social lives (which is essentially what we are talking about with a supper club). I could see a few regionals, like Wegmans pulling it off, but beyond that – no.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 8 months ago

The Whole Foods market customer has demonstrated, by shopping there, that they have a lot of discretionary income. This program will probably work for them. It will be interesting to see if it has legs after the novelty wears off.

For full-line grocers, competing primarily on price and trying to survive? Not a chance.

Dan Frechtling
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is a niche play by a niche grocer. This will appeal to a committed group of loyal Whole Foods shoppers and is more about solidifying those bonds than about drawing in new traffic. Why?

1. It asks for substantial time and dollar commitment. $739 for the first year plus immersion periods is no trifling. The 10% savings provides a dividend, but the list of items is ambiguous and store-specific.

2. It provides services available elsewhere. There is nothing proprietary about healthy cooking, healthy eating, yoga and fitness. What’s special is the Whole Foods brand and perhaps the in-store “campus.”

3. It’s positioned around the community as much as the individual. Marketing collateral talks about the network and community before self-improvement. Whole Foods seeks to become a local hub for well-being.

I agree with Liz in that Whole Foods and a few similarly-positioned grocers may make this work, though some will rely on manufacturer funding. I don’t see this model being repeated en mass.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This will work for Whole Foods. It will not work for other grocery chains. This is a brand extension. It makes sense. It is what Whole Foods stands for. Supermarket chains are not healthy places. Most of what they sell is processed and not very good for us. They will provide “healthy” products based on demand, but that is not one of the levels they discriminate on. What they really will sell is anything that sells. Grocery chains are not in the business of health. They are in the business of selling groceries. Whole Foods is in the business of health. It is that simple.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

Combining health and discount in a program is a great idea … but then I sent my soul into the outer world of the Wellness Club for some answer for my future health to find. My soul returnethed saying, “Whole Foods’ Ancient Grain Stuffed Bell Peppers are great … but you must be responsible for your health’s fate.”

Terry Soto
Guest
Terry Soto
9 years 8 months ago
The Institute for the Future Survey (2008 CCRRC), which projects health and wellness consumer trends for the decade indicates that consumers are now looking to the supermarket as part of their overall strategy to manage their personal health and supermarkets as part of their expanding personal health ecology, the mechanisms by which consumers manage their personal health: Product, Information, Providers, Technology, Relationships, Activities and Places. In fact, their recent study indicates the Grocery Store (47%) is only third after Product Labels (68%) and Family Member or Friend (52%) as a key information Source; before the media, doctor, health or product websites or dietitian/nutritionist. Consumers have a range of and specific ways in which they look to the supermarket to support their efforts to maintain their health and wellness. Top among these are Product-Specific Information on Nutrition, Healthier Choices among Product Assortment, Signage on Food Product Nutrition and Healthy Meal Preparation Guidance. Some retailers such as Whole Foods are appropriately taking “health and wellness” table, but there is some evidence that clearly shows a major effectiveness… Read more »
Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
9 years 8 months ago

Wow, that is a hefty chunk of change. In today’s economy, do they really expect consumers to spend that much? I like the concept in general but I think the cost of entry is just too high.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Definitely one of the more ridiculous ideas I’ve heard recently. I am fully aware that those with money are spending it – frequently in Whole Foods – but I cannot see that the commitment to a club of this sort is likely to attract many members.

I just spotted this, which I think has a much greater chance of impressing customers and encouraging them to participate. Whole Foods adds cooking coach, web connections to get locals cooking. This version seems to have the flexibility to be a more attractive proposition AND it could easily incorporate some of the features that encourage healthy eating. It will be interesting to see which of these models attracts greater customer response.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This might be successful because it is Whole Foods. Their customers tend to be upper scale. But to tell you the truth, I don’t get it. Why do we need to go to a grocery store to find out how to manage our lives in this respect?

Joel Rubinson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

In general, in freemium models I think about 90- 95% take the free option. That means that Whole Foods has traded off a little bit of revenue for leaving 90% or so of their shoppers out in the cold. To me, this doesn’t seem very advisable. I would have gone free, and integrated across touchpoints–in person seminars, digital, and mobile apps.

C Stadelmaier
Guest
C Stadelmaier
9 years 8 months ago

While I am an avid “Whole Foods” shopper and will pay the price for high quality food, especially the meats. I came by the decision to do so by educating myself about the current food chain as have others that I know. I personally don’t see a need to spend more money for an ephemeral return, and would rather spend that money on food in the market itself. I also expect some degree of in-store education to come with the higher prices. I can see paying for programs with a 1 to 1 return in grocery dollars, (they could be targeted) but I don’t see the current program being successful as it is presently conceived.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This will probably fly with enough people within their niche that it will work. I doubt strongly it would work many other places; mainstream grocers are mostly all about price and are not positioned well for anything like this. Whole Foods will have to work aggressively to keep up the interest of the people who have joined. As with a gym/health club, many people start something with good intentions but tail off.

carol medvick
Guest
carol medvick
9 years 8 months ago

Not as described. Resources would be better directed toward quality cooking classes, regular seminars, and supper club. Whole Foods should partner with other resources such as dietitians, MDs, etc., to provide the ‘one-on-one’ evaluations and personalized programs. Provide the 10% store discounts for those who proactively participate.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

As a brand extension, this makes a lot of sense; as an idea with real value, I’m not so sure: the pricing seems skewed – the processing fee is too high, while the monthly fees seem too low – and raises an obvious question: if I spend >$450/mo at WF, wouldn’t I actually come out ahead thru the discount?

Mary Jane Detroyer
Guest
Mary Jane Detroyer
9 years 8 months ago

Whole Foods equals health to consumers. That $199 one time processing fee for the health evaluation, nutrition education and coaching and skill building alone is a steal. The $45 a month is not too low a monthly fee for a company the size of Whole Foods who is looking to extend their brand and has the monetary resources to make this work.

Yes the economy may influence the success. However, as a dietitian and personal trainer, I work with hundreds of clients a year who are willing to pay extra for their groceries because they want wholesome, healthier options. If the wellness club is combined with a store, even better. The consumer leaves from their workout motivated to eat well with new recipes and nutrition goals. They stop in the store as they leave the club to fill their carts. Maybe I’ll contact them for a position in the NYC store.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Whole Foods has grasped a great concept in educating its customer base about good nutrition and enabling solutions through its stores.

The positioning of the membership fee invites competitors to trial something similar but include the idea as part of an overall branding approach.

In a (few) words, good idea, but too much to ask consumers to pay….

Leon Farbes
Guest
Leon Farbes
9 years 8 months ago

Yes! Whole Foods has already instituted a very good social media program to inform and persuade their customers about events and grocery products/services that are available in their stores on a weekly basis, so this new program will be an add on. If they succeed, other stores will probably attempt to copy their strategy.

To succeed in this new Venture, an excellent core management team, and a well thought business strategy development, implementation and control plan will be essential to increase the chances for success, and minimize any unforeseen circumstances.

Alan Lewis
Guest
Alan Lewis
9 years 8 months ago

You might want to ask some of the 12,000 independent natural food and wellness stores that already offer many these services for free, and have for decades. It is not uncommon for single-location natural markets to offer nutrition counseling, health education, seminars, lectures, and even yoga/movement classes for free as a service to their customers.

The real backbone of the natural food and wellness movement considers helping spread wellness its *mission*, not an opportunity for profit.

Yet again 30-years-young Whole Foods “discovers” the long-beating heart of the movement it unabashedly claims to have created and claims to lead. Pish Posh. The real health and wellness movement preceded WF by decades and will survive long after it completes its current morph into an upscale cafeteria for the wealthy.

Sure, some neighbors may take part — but why pay for something when it is offered by others with purer motives and for free?

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