Like the set of a Broadway show readying for opening night, Whole Foods’ brightly lit 51,156-square-foot store Downtown was a hive of activity this morning as “Senior Local Forager” John Lawson and the store publicist, Carrie, took me on a tour.
Already familiar with many of their items and being a proud New Jersey transplant, I wanted to first know about products from the Garden State. As we stepped between pallets of food waiting to be “packed out” to the shelves, Lawson explained that “local” meant “made in, manufactured in, and based in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
“We sell Oishii strawberries…we’ll be selling two varieties.” Last year Oishii opened a 74,000-square-foot indoor vertical farm in Jersey City. He said he expected the display of Evergreen Orchards’ Korean pears which hail from Trenton, to sell out quickly.
With some still-empty shelves and boxes strewn about, Carrie asked if I could limit my photography to close-ups. No problem.
We then walked the aisles, with Lawson pulling off products as we went.
He stopped to point out Severino pastas made by two brothers just outside of Philly whose parents immigrated from Italy. Because it’s “bronze cut,” he explained. “It’s the better quality…basically the sauce sticks to the pasta.”
He stopped to show off a display of Nona Mariantonia pasta sauce. The company is based in Hawthorne, New Jersey.
A few aisles over, Lawson made a beeline for Undercover Cookies out of Hanover, New Jersey. “They’re fantastic. They make millions of these a month for United flights…my motive on this is that I want to get you hooked on these and have you buy them. Her facility is amazing…woman owned business.”
And so it went, with Lawson yanking from the shelves products ranging from candles to ghee.
At one point, veering from the local, Lawson grabbed a box of Whole Foods’ new Italian-made truffles and posed for a picture.
I had to ask about the elephant in the room, price. Would working families in Jersey City be able to afford the store? “We have a lot of value options in the store. If you always look for our private label options…the 365 brand,” said Lawson, also noting that Amazon Prime members get 10 percent off.
As someone who had been in the food business years ago and sold a product at Whole Foods, I wanted to know how a small company today gets an item into the store. Lawson said the priority now was making sure that the product meets the store’s standards. “Food has gotten very complicated…every couple of weeks I’ll get a product submitted to me that has an ingredient that I’ll have to submit to quality standards. And occasionally the quality standards team has not seen that ingredient. Food is just evolving very quickly.”
Lawson touted Whole Foods’ Local and Emerging Accelerator Program (LEAP) which offers education and the potential for direct financial support for new brands. One such company, CHKP Foods, makes a plant-based brand that transforms chickpeas into dairy-free yogurt.
Located at the corner of Washington Street and Christopher Columbus Drive, Whole Foods Jersey City will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on opening day. Regular store hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Opening morning, customers will get complimentary coffee and pastries from Palazzone Pastry Lab in Little Falls. The first 300 customers in line will receive a limited-edition tote bag and a Secret Saver coupon featuring offers up to $100 off.
Whole Foods provides 90 minutes of free parking in the connected parking garage with validation of a $10 (or more) purchase.