Grocery shopping used to be a drag. You’d troll the aisles, gathering boxes under fluorescent lights. Whole Foods (a giant US health food chain for us Aussies), which was founded in 1980 in Austin, changed all that. It transformed the supermarket from a place of picking up staples to a destination of discovery.
Christina Minardi, a 23-year Whole Foods veteran and executive vice-president of operations, led the charge. She helped reshape the culture of grocery shopping. (Whole Foods was the first grocery-store chain to sell certified organic products.)
And, as a top-of-the-food-chain buyer, she’s one of the tastemakers to thank/blame for the rise of kale, quinoa, kefir, avocados, purple carrots, and cauliflower. Her secret: “We have foragers around the country,” she says. “They go to local farmers markets and shops, and then Whole Foods helps with packaging and conducts taste tests at in-store kiosks. It builds loyalty from the purveyor and helps give Whole Foods the edge in new products.”
Whole Foods racked up $16 billion in gross sales in 2016 from 458 stores worldwide, with a growth rate unmatched in the industry. Here’s what’s next, according to Minardi.
Now: Fake meat
Next: Real fruits and vegetables
“Fake chicken or fake hamburgers is a big trend that isn’t going away, but there are a lot of young chefs doing such good things with vegetables,” she says. “We are moving away from vegan food, like fried seitan with a heavy sauce, toward great vegetable-based main dishes,” such as whole roasted plantains topped with hot honey or cacio e pepe made with mushrooms instead of pasta.
Now: Nut-based milks
Next: Plant-based milks
“In the last two or three years, milk products have increased from a three-foot section of our stores to a fifteen-foot section,” Minardi says. That’s spurred by soy, almond, and cashew milks, but also by an emerging market for hemp, oat, and flax milk, she says.
Now: Indian, Mexican, Italian
Next: Ethiopian, Thai, Moroccan, Israeli
“Customers are more and more daring and adventurous,” she says. “Ten years ago, our customers were growing comfortable with cooking Mexican food. Now they want to cook food from Croatia.” Whole Foods’ new hot-bar options reflect this, expanding beyond salad bars to grain-based bowls that incorporate ingredients from foreign cuisines.
Next: Sparkling reds
“Consumers are more adventurous in the sense of their drinking habits, too.” Though rosé sales continue to stay steady, Minardi says sparkling reds are gaining traction. Seek out sparkling Shiraz or Lambrusco. Pair it with Ethiopian, Thai, Moroccan, or Israeli food.