New Frontiers' transition to Whole Foods could take 6 more months

kleslie@thetribunenews.comMay 28, 2014 

Customers will have to wait until at least November to shop under the Whole Foods Market banner, as the natural and organic food store off Los Osos Valley Road slowly transitions from a New Frontiers Natural Marketplace.

But since the deal for the San Luis Obispo store and three others closed April 24 for an undisclosed sum, Whole Foods has quietly begun making some changes — and planning more.

For example, it has begun to introduce its discount line, 365 Everyday Value, throughout the store, and recently switched the beef selection to Hearst Ranch Grass-Fed Beef, said Dave Gonzalez, executive coordinator for operations at Whole Foods Market.

“Every week, we will be adding more and more items,” he said.

Looking ahead, Whole Foods plans to add a beer and wine section, which requires permits from the city and some renovations to the grocery store’s aisles.

The company is also looking into some other minor renovations, such as adding pizza ovens to the deli section and expanding the bakery, Gonzalez said.

The store will remain open through any renovations.

Other changes — behind the scenes — include updating all computer programs and systems within the store and training employees on how to use them, Gonzalez said.

One of the last changes to take place will be adding the Whole Foods name on the building.

“We want to do this right before we pull the trigger on the name change,” Gonzalez said, adding that will occur when the store is ready to hold its grand opening. It’s tentatively set for November, though, depending on the extent of the changes the company decides to implement, it could take as long as a year past the deal’s closing date. That would put the grand opening sometime before April 2015.

In the meantime, some former New Frontiers employees (most of whom chose to become Whole Foods team members) are benefiting from the transition, with between 40 percent and 50 percent earning wage increases.

The increase brought employees’ salaries in line with Whole Foods wages, and increased many employees’ hourly pay from $8 to between $11 and $12, Gonzalez said.

Whole Foods Market has 373 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom — with more than 80,000 employees — and reported nearly $13 billion in annual revenue in 2013, according to the company website.

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