Whole Foods Rocky Mountain opens 35th store: El Paso, TX

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Whole Foods Markets opened its 35th Rocky Mountain Region store in El Paso, Texas this week, with about 200 people waiting in line before it opened Wednesday.

“We have this underlying impression that this store is going to be much better than what the company initially thought it would do” because the community has welcomed us with open arms, said Bill Jordan, president of Whole Foods Rocky Mountain Region, as he sat on a second-floor balcony overlooking the 50,000 square-foot store jammed with shoppers.

“We think it will be above average (in sales) for the Rocky Mountain Region,” which includes 34 stores in six states and the store on Mesa and Pitt in West El Paso.

He declined to divulge sales projections. But the natural and organic foods supermarket chain averaged $715,000 in weekly sales per store last year, according to its financial reports. Total sales were $15.4 billion last year. It now operates about 455 stores.

Opening day started at 8 a.m., instead of the scheduled 8:45 a.m., so the estimated 200 customers lined up outside didn’t have to wait longer, Jordan said. Parking was tough to find, forcing customers to park beyond the store’s 200-space lot.

The El Paso opening was on par with other Whole Foods’ openings in new markets, Jordan said.

“It’s really normal to have a first day that’s a little overwhelming,” especially for employees, he said. The El Paso store employs 181 people, and expects to add more employees in coming weeks, he said.,

The Whole Foods store, across the street from Coronado High School, is almost twice the size of Sprouts Farmers Market’s two El Paso stores. Those stores are among the top-performing stores in the Sprouts chain with more than 250 stores, Sprouts officials have said.

Sprouts success in this market didn’t influence Whole Foods officials’ decision to put a store in El Paso, Jordan said.

“We didn’t look at Sprouts performance” in this market, he said. “There’s a lot of Sprouts in our markets. They are a good competitor.”

“We want to open stores in great locations,” Jordan said, And it’s not always easy to find the right site in a city, he said.

“The real estate team has a whole set of demographic and typographic studies they review” to make site recommendations to Whole Foods executives, he said.

Whole Foods might look at adding another El Paso store if the West Side store performs well in coming months, Jordan said. That could include the chain’s recently introduced smaller-store concept, 365 by Whole Foods, he added.

One thing that sets Whole Foods apart from Sprouts and other competitors is its huge prepared-food section, which takes up a big chunk of the El Paso store. It also has the Thunderbird Taproom, a bar, with 24 beers on tap, and restaurant located by one of the front entrances. Whole Foods in 2011, began slowing adding taprooms to stores, and now has bars in almost 40 percent of its stores.

Whole Foods officials also take pride in the company’s extensive program to bring local products into the store. The El Paso store has about 24 local suppliers, including coffee roasters, a donut maker, pecan growers, and jewelery designer. That number will grow, said Darcy Landis, local product coordinator for Whole Foods Rocky Mountain region.

Vic Kolenc , El Paso Times,  October 19, 2016