Whole Foods Market is launching a new Local and Emerging Accelerator Program to help small-scale, local suppliers grow their business. The program offers a 10-week education program from Whole Foods Market experts tailored toward small and emerging producers, plus one year of mentorship from a Local Forager. There is also potential for suppliers to receive financial support to promote business growth. Select program participants will secure shelf space at their local Whole Foods Market stores, plus ongoing support after gaining placement. Whole Foods Market has a long history of supporting small, local, and emerging producers. Now the company is looking to formalize this assistance with the Local and Emerging Acceleration Program.
Applications for the first run of the program are due April 8th, with finalists announced in late summer. The first cohort will consist of 10 promising local suppliers. “With this program, we’re looking to facilitate a higher level of partnership between suppliers and Whole Foods Market. And we’re focusing on smaller suppliers, with a local angle,” said Will Betts, VP of Local Merchandising at Whole Foods Market. “So, it’s going to pave the way for suppliers located across the entire U.S. and Canada to receive mentorship directly from our expert team members on how to effectively get their product in Whole Foods Market, and also give them further education on how to be successful once they’re in the stores.”
Supplier participants who successfully complete the program have the potential to receive financial support toward their business growth. Participants may receive $25,000 equity investment from a donor-advised fund managed by the Austin Community Foundation, with proceeds benefiting Whole Foods Market’s private operating Foundations. Some local producers may also receive support from the grocer’s Local Producer Loan Program which lends money to small-scale, local or emerging producers across the U.S. and Canada to help them grow their businesses.
Whole Foods Market defines “local” as a product produced within the operating state or up to 275 miles from the store selling the product. For local program applicants to hit the company’s radar, product must reflect innovation in trends and flavors while also meeting quality standards and product safety requirements. The company also evaluates new items on sustainability in production and packaging. “And then if it’s a food product, I always like to come back to taste, and that it really helps to be delicious, you know? And going back to this concept of taste of place is that we have unique assortments in our stores throughout the country, and local is a big part of that. So, we want the flavors to be representative of the communities where our stores are located,” Betts said. In 2021, the company added 500 new local brands and 6,500 new local items to its shelves.