Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Is 2019 the year Whole Foods comes to Toledo?

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    A 365 by Whole Foods store is under construction at 3420 Secor Road in West Toledo.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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    Location of the planned Whole Foods on Secor Road in Toledo.

    THE BLADE/LORI KING
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  • BIZ-wholefoods08

    Location of the planned Whole Foods on Secor Road in Toledo.

    THE BLADE/LORI KING
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The long-awaited Whole Foods 365 store on Secor Road now is scheduled to open some time in the future, according to the owner-developer of the shopping center containing the already-constructed 35,000-square-foot grocery building.

But retail analysts say don’t be surprised if Whole Foods changes or delays the project again, or chooses not to open at all.

A spokesman for S.J. Collins Enterprises, of suburban Atlanta, which owns the Secor Square shopping center at 3379 Secor Rd., said the commercial landlord has been notified by Whole Foods to begin preparations for a store to fill the empty building that was constructed in 2017.

WATCH: Blade business writer Jon Chavez on Whole Foods’ plans for Toledo

Whole Foods “is working on revising their plans to start work again at this location,” the spokesman said.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., did not respond to several requests to confirm the information.

The empty building on Secor Road in West Toledo was ready in early 2017 for a store to open, and the Whole Foods 365 website,promised a future store but didn't say when. Tenants in the shopping center were told there would be a Whole Foods store in 2017, then 2018, and finally 2019.

One tenant of Secor Square shopping center, the Columbus-based PetPeople pet supplies chain, said Monday that it, too, was told to expect a Whole Foods 365 store next year.

“All we know is some time in 2019. We don’t have a month. We just know 2019,” a company spokesman said.

Three grocery industry analysts said they have doubts that Amazon is committed to growing the number of Whole Foods 365 stores — so named because they emphasize the chain’s 365 brand of products and offer fewer services than a regular Whole Foods store.

“In my opinion, [365 stores] is a failure that never lived up to the hype and I see Amazon going with the AmazonGo [small store] concept and bailing on 365,” said Phil Lempert, a California-based analyst who is known under the name the Supermarket Guru.

David Livingston, of DJL Research, agrees that Amazon seems more interested in its AmazonGo format than Whole Foods 365. The company said last month that by 2021 it wants 3,000 AmazonGo stores — 2,000 square foot convenience markets, keyed to apps and smartphones, that contained freshly-prepared foods and a short list of groceries.

“You walk in, you walk out and get what you need. ...I think the Whole Foods 365 concept isn’t important to them anymore. It never did very well anyhow,” Mr. Livingston said. “In fact, I’m starting to think that bricks and mortar stores seems to be on its way out for them.”

David Bishop, analyst and co-owner of Chicago-based Brick Meets Click, said he would not bet on Whole Foods following through with plans for a Whole Foods 365 store for Toledo or other places.

“I think at this point it’s less than a 50 percent chance for that happening,” he said of a Secor Square store.

Mr. Bishop said Amazon does not view grocery stores like a Kroger, Walmart, or Meijer does.

Amazon, he said, sees selling groceries and stores as a way to sell its Amazon Prime subscription service.

“They want to make Prime subscriptions such an incredible deal that will would be irresponsible of any person not to be a member,” Mr. Bishop said.

To that end, it is using Whole Foods as a perk. When it acquired Whole Foods in August 2017, its first move was to sell its technology, like Amazon Echo, in the stores. Last May, it began giving 10 percent discounts at Whole Foods to customers with Prime account, and recently, it began free Whole Foods home delivery in some cities to Prime members.

Amazon, Mr. Bishop said, doesn’t care if it has a large chain. “Amazon is wondering how does (Whole Foods) strengthen the Prime membership value proposition and how does this bring in more customers under the Prime membership subscription,” Mr. Bishop said.

He said Amazon could build more stores, turn Whole Food into a Prime-members only store, like Costco, or close the stores and use them as sites to keep fresh food for home delivery.

“From a traditional grocer’s perspective, it’s unclear why they would do this,” Mr. Bishop said of the Toledo store. “But from Amazon’s perspective, their whole motivation around the retail store concept is to really market the appeal …of Prime to non-Prime members as a way of bringing them on board.”

Contact Blade Business Writer Jon Chavez at jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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