Whole Foods battles Wild Oats in Louisville

While the 2nd annual Levine Thanksgiving family reunion was absent of any fights, in fact it was filled with fond reminiscences of old friends, favorite places, family pets and resulted in nothing more harmful than falling asleep in front of the television and some serious overeating  (more turkey please…damn that stuffing is good, would you pass it this way…and those turnips sure are tasty) , it did offer an close up view into one brawl that NBN just loves to talk about.

GRANOLA WARS:  Location Louisville, Kentucky

While there we witnessed firsthand the devastation that happens when a Whole Foods Market comes into Wild Oats territory.  Granted we weren’t able to get there the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (what you likely know is the busiest grocery shopping day of the year) but we did go the day after.


Before we begin, however lets not forget that there are plenty of hard-working shelve stocking independents out across the good old USA and give a little credit to Rainbow Blossom a small independent chain that was in the process of just opening up its 4th store in the Louisville area.   The store we saw was well designed with lots of windows a great floor plan and very appealing.  At least until we got the produce, where as one might expect, it was limper than a last month’s lettuce. Later, while talking to a Whole Foods employee, he told me that he would prefer working at Rainbow Blossom, “for a local business” but that they paid substantially less and didn’t offer benefits, at least for part-timers.

We left Rainbow Blossom figuring the core of their business were folks who preferred local and those really buying lots of supplements.  Their section was large and oddly enough even included a small refrigerator of Flora products  by the check stands.  Not sure if this was placed as a high –end an impulse item (unlikely) or there due to limits on the availability of outlets.

The two big boys were located on a main shopping street, filled with the usual assortment of national and local retail outlets: Barnes & Nobles, Linens & More, and plenty of car dealers.

Wild Oats was our first stop.  Parking was easy, even close to the entrance, a sign NBN thought of things to come.  We walked inside the rather pedestrian storefront (it could have easily been a Kohler’s or Bed, Bath & Beyond) but were impressed with a great display of produce, while thinking “mmm…the lighting seems dark in here,” and it was.  Overall we counter a total of 35 people in the large store, more than a third of whom were eating in the café section and likely workers from the neighboring stores.  At Whole Foods, there 35 people in the produce section alone.

The Wild Oats bakery shelves were mostly empty, save a few muffins and other goods, perhaps an indication of the remodeling of the bakery/deli section that seemed to be underway or perhaps the folks at Wild Oats decided to save money and not bother making goods no one would buy that day.  Conversely at WFM the bakery shelves were packed.

We thought the store we pretty nice overall.  That was until we drove a little down the street and entered Whole Foods.  Parking wasn’t easy.  The store had a beautiful façade, combining rough hewn stones with strip mall design in a creative exciting way.  We sighed as we entered, feeling yet again sorry for Wild Oats.  Passing the beautiful floral and plants entering WFM, we thought of Wild Oats like a friend we keep rooting for but who can never get their life put together just right.  You know, the one who constantly falls off the wagon and returns to AA every six months or the neighbor who starts business after business losing more money every time.

The rest you could probably write yourself.  The lighting was bright the end caps packed with things I wanted to buy and the staff very helpful.  Of course the other things were standard as well.  Wild Oats promoted fair trade and organic much more than Whole Foods, especially notable in the coffee aisles.

The deli and bakery sections were making me think I was hungry.  My sister bought three different things, two of which, weren’t for now but were for presents.   Upon leaving I knew if I was living in Louisville the place that I’d shop was the king of them all, Whole Foods Market.  Sad, not really, but surprised even us.


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