First impressions of the new Millennial-friendly market.
Imagine if Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s had a tech-savvy baby—that's how I'd sum up the new 365 by Whole Foods market. I recently had a chance to check out the first store of its kind when it opened in the trendy Silver Lake neighborhood of L.A. a few weeks ago. The new market is pegged as a budget- and Millennial-friendly version of Whole Foods, which, in my opinion, is totally accurate. The style is way more down-to-earth, it's filled with tech elements, and the prices are lower than regular Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck). Here, a few notes on the new store, and what you might expect when a 365 pops up in your area.
365 is no frills
The first thing I noticed when I walked into 365 is just how different the vibe is compared to Whole Foods. For starters, it’s smaller. According to Whole Foods PR, a 365 store will be about 30,000 square feet, compared to 45,000 square feet for their original stores. Also, it’s missing many typical Whole Foods bells and whistles. For example, there are no fancy glass cases displaying prepared foods with a staff member standing by to dish up your $20 piece of wild salmon. Instead 365 is self-served focused, filled with cases where you can help yourself to containers of chicken salad, falafel, cupcakes, and the like. It's also missing many typical “extras ” like the yoga and workout clothes, home goods, baby clothes, and vinyl records featured at many Whole Foods markets. Plus some standards sections, like supplements, beauty and pets, are more pared down.
It’s more high-tech than any other grocery store
One major feature that stands out at 365 is just how many interactive machines pepper the store. A TeaBOT station allows you to order your own fresh brewed tea by entering your order on a tablet, self-paying, and waiting for your cup. Another machine, described as “the Kuerig for cold pressed juice" allows you to pop open the device, slide in your desired flavor packet, press a button, and enjoy your automated cold pressed juice. I also took advantage of a kiosk in the wine, beer, and spirits section, which allows you to scan a bar code to verify price, learn more about the product, and read other customers’ reviews. You can also purchase a made-for-you meal, like a salad or bowl, by simply touching a few buttons on a screen to order then picking it up at a counter, so you don't need to stand in a checkout line.
The prices are lower than Whole Foods
I checked on all the items I typically buy at Whole Foods—including organic produce, my favorite brand of dark chocolate, nut butter, frozen organic berries, and organic wine—and they ranged from 50 cents to $2 cheaper at 365. I was kind of blown away by their fairly vast organic wine selection. For shoppers on a tight budget, they also offer their own version of Trader Joe's "Two Buck Chuck," a bottle of Three Wishes wine for $2.49. There was also a very prominent display of on sale PBR.
365 products dominate the shelves
Again, like Trader Joe’s, I noticed that the 365 store brand products take up more shelf space than expensive branded products. In fact, I couldn't even find some of the options I typically see at Whole Foods, like Skinny Pop popcorn for example. This might have to do with the smaller size of the store, and because the store brand items are more economical, which is a major focus of the 365 concept.
RELATED: Should You Follow the 80/20 Diet?
The salad bar operates differently
At Whole Foods stores, the salad and hot bars are priced by weight—generally $8.99 per pound for items ranging from salad to chana masala. But at 365, the self-serve bars are priced by container size. So as long as you can close the container, a small is priced at $5.50, medium $7.50, and large $9.50, regardless of weight. Exceptions include soup, priced at $3 for 8 oz. and $5 for 16 oz.; and oatmeal, priced at $2 per 8 oz. or $3 per 16 oz.
There’s still a boozy bar
It has a smaller seating area and is less swanky than the ones at Whole Foods, but nevertheless the Silver Lake 365 store does have a bar that serves beer and wine. However, rather than bellying up to the bar, you can place your order on a touch screen, take a seat, and have it delivered to you (although if you prefer a human interaction, you have the option of ordering from a real person).
A vegan restaurant is attached
There’s no telling what upcoming 365 locations have in the works, but the inaugural store includes a partnership with NYC-based restaurant by CHLOE. Attached to the 365 store, this vegan, self-contained establishment serves plant-based burgers, mac 'n cheese, and decadent desserts. Both times I visited, it was packed, so I didn't have a chance to indulge. But it looked delicious, and is definitely on the agenda for my next trip.
In case it wasn't clear, I'm definitely a fan of the new Whole Foods 365 market. However, since there aren't yet any locations near my homes in Venice or New York City, I probably won’t go out of my way to shop there. That said, 365 is expanding. Right now the next two stores set to open are in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and Bellevue, Washington—with up to 10 more stores expected to launch in 2017. But even when there is one right down the street I’ll likely continue my multi-store strategy, which includes a mix of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Target, Costco, mainstream grocery stores, and online retailers like amazon.com. In other words, 365 isn’t destined to become my one-stop shop, and it won’t replace my regular Whole Foods trips. But it likely will become a usual stop, especially for better-priced staples, and I'm excited to see what they have in store for the future.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.