- Whole Foods will open its sixth 365 store this Friday in Akron, Ohio, according to Supermarket News. The location is one of 17 under development by the company, though some observers wonder about the format’s future under Amazon.
- The format, which averages 30,000 square feet, features a private label-focused assortment, lower prices and fewer service departments than a typical Whole Foods store.
- The Akron store, like other 365 locations, has partnered with third-party companies to offer in-store dining. Fire Leaf is a stir-fry restaurant hatched by Genji, Whole Foods’ longtime sushi provider, while Artisan Coffee, a local roaster, will operate an in-store café.
Industry observers have wondered what might happen to 365 by Whole Foods stores under Amazon’s ownership. The concept addresses some of the problems that have plagued Whole Foods, like high operating costs and prices, while still offering a wide selection of specialty products. But could Amazon see the stores as unnecessary in light of its own pricing and operational improvements it’s implementing?
One clue could be the new store’s logo. As an eagle-eyed Supermarket News reader noted in the story’s comments section, while all other stores put “365” in large letters and “by Whole Foods Market” in smaller type beneath, Akron’s 365 storefront post the Whole Foods Market logo in large print, with “365” listed just above, almost as an afterthought.
This could be a simple redesign. But it seems to carry more significance than that. Pumping up the Whole Foods logo seems to reinforce Amazon’s confidence in the well-known brand. The 365 stores may be different from typical Whole Foods stores, but Amazon wants them to be seen as a one-off for the company rather than an entirely different concept.
After the Akron store opens, Whole Foods will have 16 additional 365 stores in development. Given Amazon’s willingness to experiment, it seems likely the company will not change the pace of store openings. Amazon may want to play with the concept and see what it can learn. The low frills environment could offer insights it could implement across the entire Whole Foods chain, while 365’s focus on private label could make the stores a good test lab for Amazon’s own brand development.
365 stores also feature partnerships with local restaurants and cafes — known as the “Friends of 365” program — that can inform decisions across the broader business. The Akron store features a pan-Asian restaurant and coffee bar, while other stores have incorporated juice bars, street food and vegan eateries. Next Level Burger, a plant-based burger chain started in Bend, Oregon, appeared in the Lake Oswego 365 store, and was so popular that Whole Foods is now trying the restaurant in one of its Seattle stores.
Amid the doom and gloom of pre-acquisition earnings calls, Whole Foods officials often referred to 365 stores as a ray of light for the company. Assuming Amazon sees the same value in the concept, 365 by Whole Foods could become a growth driver for the newly energized company.