Last Saturday morning, Whole Foods Laguna Niguel hosted a Meet the Forager event for 50 SoCal artisans who hoped to one day have their products grace the WFM shelves. "Foragers" are the fine folks whose job is to seek out unique products grown or produced in their store's backyard. Their mission is to support local family farmers and artisans, reduce fossil fuel consumption, stay connected with the community, and preserve our connection with food. Highlights from the Q&A below.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
- 1 in 20 prospective local vendors make it into WF
- It's a slow, slow process and even after approved can be another 4 months before you're on the shelves. Be patient and persistent – show them that you're dedicated and passionate.
- Although the Local Forager finds and cultivates the relationship, it's the department leader who makes the purchasing decisions. Make them and their team members your #1 fans. (Show up at Team Appreciation Days with goodies!)
- Communication is key. Don't expect, make sure.
- Criteria for Local: Your business is based here AND product is grown, raised, made, or finished here
- Questions for your Business Plan – How much can you lose/spend, have to make? What happens when you run out of money?
What WFM Seeks:
- Labels – make sure front panel claims match ingredient list, etc
- Facilities – local when possible
- Ingredients – sourced fair trade & local when possible; avoid unacceptable ingredients
- Attributes/Claims – minimal
- Mission-driven – what is your role in the community?
- Appearance – professional, not homemade looking
- Variety – at least 3 SKUS
- Unique or Saturated – new/old, barbeque or bbq
- Story – customers want to like your products, give them a reason
- New Trends – what is the customer looking for that isn't on the shelves
Requirements (all verified by WFM Forager):
- Labels – must meet FDA/CA specs. (California Dept of Public Health must approve all labels, packaging, etc.)
- Facilities – County, State, Federal permits & 3rd party audits (e.g. Silliker Labs, Everclean)
- Ingredients – must meet WFM Quality Standards
- Attributes/Claims (organic, gluten-free, etc) – certified, verified, lab-tested. (Better yet, keep your labels simple!)
- Recall System – accountable, source material verification – Where did ingredients come from? Where did final products go? Batch numbers? How do you receive complaints/feedback? Where is your complaint log? What is your HAACP plan? Do you follow Good Manufacturing Practices?
- Insurance – liability, auto (usually covered under liability), demo
WFM LOCAL PROGRAM
After meeting local criteria & are approved by local store & forager:
- Start 1-3 stores
- Self-delivery allowed (WFM doesn't pay for delivery – include in your costs)
- Shorter payment terms
- Case discounts are not expected or requested
- In-store demos – Building your brand is hard work and takes dedication. Once on the shelves, support your brand with active product demos every 1-2 weeks. WFM doesn't charge fee for demoing, but LA County does – $200+/yr. (Demoing company might be more economical in LA.)
- Shelf-positioning/Sliding – decided by buyer only
- Local Profile – in-store & website
- Can apply for local loan program
- One-on-one personal attention