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The store is in the southwest corner of Colonie Center. It's been sectioned out of the space that Sears owns there. (There's no entrance from the mall.)

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The prepared foods section also has a cheese steak station and a salad station.

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The juice and coffee bar.

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The cafe area sits 122 people.

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Checking out the Whole Foods at Colonie Center

whole foods colonie center exterior

The long awaited Whole Foods at Colonie Center opens this Wednesday.

We figured a lot of people will be curious, so we stopped by for the media tour Monday afternoon.

Here are a bunch of photos and a few thoughts...

Photos

They're in large format above -- click or scroll all the way up.

The supermarket as interface

whole foods stacked vegetables

One of the ways we've come to think about supermarkets is as interfaces. That might sound wonky and pretentious (because, um, it is), but it makes sense in that supermarket serve as one of the main ways people access the very large and very complicated system that produces food. And thinking about things that way also helps sort out what a supermarket is trying to do, and the tradeoffs -- simplicity/selection/cost/quality and so on -- made along the way.

Right, so Whole Foods. Here's how Michael Sinatra, the company's spokesperson, described its approach:

What really differentiates us is the fact that we are selling only natural products. The trend has certainly moved towards people caring about what they're putting in their body, caring about the way their food is produced. And when they shop in our stores we're doing a lot of the homework for them.

That pre-filtering shows up in how the store is designed, both visually and in terms of product selection. The seafood counter has ratings for the sustainability of wild-caught fish. The meat counter includes an animal welfare guide with ascending levels of strictness. All the eggs sold in the store -- and the eggs in products sold in the store -- are cage free. Products are "free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats." The signage emphasizes the origins of local products.

Essentially it all tries to make a case to the shopper that's something along the lines of: "If you're concerned about these issues, we understand, and you can relax here -- because we've made it easier for you." Trader Joe's employs a similar strategy with its many house brand packaged products. (Of course, it's worth mentioning that taking the preservatives out of a potato chip or a frozen dinner doesn't necessarily make it healthy.)

And it doesn't hurt that the store itself is attractive, with good light, colorful signage, and engaging displays.

Local stuff

Among the angles the company was touting at this new store is the group of local products it's sourced for the first time -- 52 new products in all. It's carrying products from local vendors such as RAD Soap, Tara Kitchen, and Bake For You.

At this point, the local angle isn't all that unusual. Honest Weight carries a bunch of local products, and has done so for a long time. And even traditional chains such as ShopRite, Price Chopper, and Hannaford tout their local offerings.

But we did think it was notable that Whole Foods employs "local foragers" for regions around the country. The forager for the Northeast Region -- Elly Truesdale -- was in the store Monday and we had a chance to talk for a few minutes. Her job is to not only seek out products from local producers that Whole Foods might want to carry, but to also work with those local producers to offer assistance and guidance in sorting out the details necessary to be carried in a major chain. An example: Truesdale says she worked with the owners of Tara Kitchen in Schenectady on getting bar codes for the restaurant's line of simmer sauces.

No doubt Whole Foods is working with these local producers because, first and foremost, it believes it's good for Whole Foods' business. ("Local" is good marketing these days.) But it highlights some of the resources available to a large chain, and if a small, local business can benefit, it's a bonus.

Price

Whole Foods spices

Whole Foods has a reputation for being expensive, thus the "Whole Paycheck" nickname. And let's face it, one of the trade-offs you're going to make when buying an item like grassfed beef or organic whatever is that it's very often going to cost more than the bargain-priced "conventional" stuff.*

Sinatra emphasized that the company believes many items it carries are good values. "If you're shopping with the seasons and you're buying our house brand -- I always point to the olive oil category as a good example. We have a house brand liter of olive oil that we sell for $6.99, which is really priced competitively with any other extra virgin olive oil that you could buy in any market period. But we also have very specific, single origin, artisanaly made olive oils from around the world that the prices are higher on."

Where does Whole Foods fit in here?

Whole Foods check out

There's a lot of supermarket competition in the Capital Region now, across a wide spectrum of price and product type. Whole Foods is probably most like the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany and Healthy Living Market in Wilton. They all have an emphasis on natural and organic products, they're roughly the same size, and there are even visual similarities. Trader Joe's is probably in the same neighborhood, though it has an even more edited selection and leans toward packaged foods.

But a lot of the things that differentiate these places are starting show up in other outlets. The Price Chopper Market Bistro in Latham definitely exhibits some Whole Foods visual characteristics (even if it's much bigger). And all the traditional outlets are expanding their offerings in organic and gluten free and other previously niche categories.

Whole Foods will probably most often get compared to Honest Weight, though, and vice versa. It's been about a year since Honest Weight moved its new location, and from what we've heard informally, business has been very strong since the move. Can the two co-exist?

"Absolutely," said Sinatra when we asked about it Monday. "I think with places like their shop [the co-op] and our shop what it's doing is creating more interest in natural foods and more awareness for natural foods. So I think for the industry -- especially in such an agriculturally driven area like upstate New York, the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region -- I think it's really good for consumers."
____

* A lot of the words used to talk about food now have sort of lost their meaning because they've been stretched and warped to suit all sorts of interests. "Natural" is a good example -- it can mean all sorts of things at this point.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Comparing the size of Capital Region supermarkets
+ Checking out the Price Chopper Market Bistro
+ Checking out the new Honest Weight location
+ Checking out the Trader Joe's on Wolf Road

Honest Weight advertises on AOA.

Comments

WOW!!! looks awesome. I can't wait to try some of the dry aged beef.

Hm, John Mackey, the right-wing Libertarian CEO of Whole Foods, compares labor unions to "herpes" and Obama's Affordable Care Act to "Fascism." Whole Foods is a known offender to Labor and Fair Trade practices, all behind the cloak of supposed "workplace democracy." Whole Foods really will be right at home with its neighbor Honest Weight Food Coop - both have launched major anti-union campaigns when workers have attempted to organize.

Digesting Whole Foods' Unsavory Politics
http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/4762/digesting_whole_foods_unsavory_politics

Exposed: How Whole Foods and the Biggest Organic Foods Distributor Are Screwing Workers
http://www.alternet.org/food/exposed-how-whole-foods-and-biggest-organic-foods-distributor-are-screwing-workers

Telling the whole truth about Whole Foods
http://socialistworker.org/2013/01/28/the-whole-truth-about-whole-foods

I'd be interested to see a price comparison, like the one I did when Healthy Wealthy Living opened in Wilton. For comparable products (same brands/sizes, or same type (organic, cage-free, etc.)), are their prices reasonable compared to Hannaford, or Fresh Market, or Trader Joe's, or the co-ops?

Lifehacker had some articles posted about pricing, looking at "what to buy at ______" for the price. Whole foods typically has good prices on olive oil, frozen veggies, and coconut oil

I agree with Kim D. regarding Whole Foods. They are no good for our community. You can't be pro-local food, pro-sustainable food, etc. and be a CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER. Whole Foods has created an elaborate facade of being a certain kind of business. It's our community's job to look behind the curtain and see what's really there.

I do not know anything about Honest Weight being anti-union (so I can't speak to that one way or the other), but I will continue to shop at Honest Weight - a LOCAL, INDEPENDENT, co-op that has served the Capital Region community for decades.

Whole Foods also has a history/reputation for going into communities and pushing out (or buying up and destroying) local independent co-ops and groceries that compete with them. They are just another Wal*Mart wolf in politically correct sheep's clothing.

Finally we can get Rad Soap when we want it! I love this company and their products. We heard their whole story a year ago and they hit a really hard time in their lives and the entire family pulled together to make Rad a great success. Their whole story is enough for me to support them and the products are truly unbelievable. I love Whole Foods as well because they really are a supporter of local family businesses. In such a rough economy Rad and Whole Foods are truly a pinnacle of what American success is all about!!!!

I can vouch for the fact that one of Whole Foods' main goals is to put local co-ops out of business. They did exactly that in Lincoln, Nebraska, a progressive university town. Whole Foods may have better quality food than Price Chopper and Hannaford and more selection than Honest Weight (for meat and packaged items), but think about where the money is going. So much of the dollars spent at Whole Foods will go into the spreadsheets of wealthy shareholders out of state (and over-seas, probably a lot of Swiss!). In contrast, when you spend dollars a the co-op (a community-owned store) that money actually stays in Albany and enriches the community.

HELLO!

It seems to me this years supermarket wars/ basket/price check or whatever the heck its called will have the staff at AOA pretty busy.
Im guessing there will be a conventional supermarket battle, and then a specialty battle between TJs WF and HWFC?

I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR IMPENDING DEATH BY SUPERMARKET.. i mean your report.

Paul, while that's a fair point, the same can be said (with the exception of Swiss beneficiaries) of Hannaford, ShopRite, Trader Joe's, and any supermarket other than Price Chopper. (For the record, I basically go to no local markets other than farmers': I already only shop at Price Chopper in rare emergencies, and stopped going to the Co-op once they moved to such an awful location.) I can see the criticisms of Whole Foods' actual policies or some other aspect specific to them, but the point about money not staying local only seems to come up when talking about this particular store, which seems odd to me.

@Paul, there are 52 local purveyors that are currently stocked at Whole Foods, and that money stays in the community right? Plus they're employing hundreds of people who will spend money in the community right?

As far as I remember we are still in the United States and we still participate in a semi-free market but slowly dissipating with every election. That being said in business it’s all about the consumer we don’t dictate where someone should shop or why. With the exception of health care which has been a great demonstration of inadequate government involvement. Company’s should perform with the best products combined with stellar customer service thus winning the customers loyalty and dollars. If you look at the Whole Foods model it is based on Local products in local communities being objectively chosen after vetting and evaluation. The Co-ops are the most political structures and do little to support a pure small business initiative based upon the product and companies quality and consumer acceptance. There is no system where they evaluate the products except for the two or three people who stand at the gate. The reason they fail is they cannot compete in a consumer driven business where their only answer is “we are in your community”…sorry that’s not good enough for todays consumers hard earned dollars. If you do the comparison Co-ops tend to be over priced with the illusion of the membership discount. In reality this is the price you can buy at all Whole Foods and don’t have to be a member to pay the best price. The reality sandwhich for the Co-ops is you’re in business and like all businesses you will compete for the consumer…which is good for us the consumer. The wake up call to the Co-ops is that this is not a game where everybody gets a participation trophy and you need to work for my money. So instead of all the negative energy get positive and tell me why I should give you my money instead why your competition is evil. Sales 101 never dis your competition.
Also what have the Co-op’s done lately for our community…please let us know…Whole Foods is giving 5% of its sales today to Capital District Community Gardens. That will be a big number the place is packed.....

I used to go to Honest Weight (Central Ave.) quite regularly for their sandwiches, pasta salad etc. I'd buy other things while I was there. About a year before they moved, the prices on all of their salads were raised -- to the point where you got 3 or 4 spoons worth for about $2.50. That's ridiculous. I soon stopped shopping at HW.

I've been to the new HW numerous times. I've tried their sandwiches, salads and baked goods. It's an attractive store, but the prices have gotten even more ridiculous. Last time I looked, HW was charging 50 cents MORE than Hannaford and Trader Joe's for 5.3 ounce container of FAGE yogurt. I buy at least a dozen a week. Every other item is non-competitively price, too. Paul and others can offer all the excuses that they want, but I'm not paying more than I have to, especially now that I'm retired.

HW is in over its head. That's their problem. I look forward to shopping at Whole Foods in addition to Hannaford and TJ's.

First tried Whole Foods while in a hotel surrounded by fast food joints in Orlando. Besides the in-your-face yuppie-ishness of it and the high prices, I actually really liked the specialty products, pre-made meals, and the fact that *everything* is labeled with allergens and origin. The juice bar was a really nice addition! A large juice was $6 - you can spend more than that one drink juicing at home. I'll cautiously try it in Colonie as long as the parking lot isn't a nightmare.

Comparing Whole Foods to Price Chopper Market Bistro is like comparing a Mercedes to a Hyundai.

C'mon AlloverAlbany!

Wow...

I try to remain positive, but from the insane comments of Uber Libertarian from the right, to the self-destructive comments of Kim D. from the left (really, the HWFC and Whole Foods are the same? Really?!), I'm reminded of how destructive our over -polarized, over-extreme, everything is black and white, discourse is to our community. How can we get anywhere through meaningful discourse when people so easily spout such extrememely unnuanced nonsense?

As I remember, this is America....the land of the free, home of the brave. You have full autonomy as to what to eat and when to eat it. Whole Foods is the direct competitor of Honest Weight only.

Meaning, if you don't like Whole Foods then don't shop there. I have been to other locations around the country and love the different options in organic produce and gluten-free products. Things that I wasn't able to purchase at Trader Joe's, Hannaford and certainly not Price Chopper.

I will choose either WF or HWFC as my sources of shopping for my family. Stop hatin'!

@Paul - Serious question. Can one still call Honest Weight a community owned store when it's indebted to a Buffalo bank for millions? And don't a lot of the dollars spent within their store go out of the region to repay the interest (and eventually the capital) on that loan?

The numbers I have:
$4.5M - M&T mortgage loan (based in Buffalo)
$1.4M - Loans from subordinate local lenders
$2.0M - Honest Weight's "retained earnings"
$1.1M - Owner loan program

Source: http://goo.gl/lVYQdc

The list above may not be a fully complete picture of the market's financials, but those were the numbers thrown around when the new store was being built.

All things said and done, I like the new Honest Weight. Its expanded bulk section is incredible. And I'm not going to complain about the location.

But as the store has grown, it has changed in a few fundamental ways. And I think it's important to make sure we're not using a language of the past to romanticize a decidedly different present.

Honest Weight is on my way home from work. So's Price Chopper. I buy food wherever I feel like.

This is slightly off topic, but Colonie Center is gradually becoming Frankenmall, a mishmash of architectural styles that make so sense. On one hand, I'm glad its losing its cold, boxy exterior, but it is a little… weird.

I was hoping to hit Whole Foods on opening day but had conflicting plans until late... If Whole Foods offers products similar to Honest Weight, with decent prices (especially for pasture raised proteins), I'll be going to Whole Foods. Nothing against Honest Weight. I still love Honest Weight. Whole Foods is just closer to where I live.

While I love the farmers markets too, logistically I can't do my main shopping there for several reasons. I'm rarely going right home after, most stands do not take plastic, and invariably I'll still need something else at a market - or run out before a week's time. I also admit I feel like such a noob shopping for proteins at the market (don't ask me why... I just feel out of place). I do patronize them when I can, and will continue to, and I'm also glad that many vendors will be on the shelves of Whole Foods.

I'm excited, and see this as an amazing expansion of choice in non-traditional markets in our area. Some of the comments are so disappointing ... it's sad. I do have a feeling we've not seen the last of Whole Foods' giving back to the community....

I can't wait to step inside those doors!!!!

I ventured over to the new store last night, lured by the $15 off $50 coupon.

My observations:

1) Parking was a breeze. Even on opening day, it was easy to snag a spot.

2) They did a lousy job of planning for pedestrians to enter and leave the store. There are no crosswalks. From the Central Ave facing entrance, there is only one small section of ramped sidewalk to lower your cart into the parking lot. You have to make a choice between walking safely on the sidewalk and clunking your cart awkwardly off the curb or just walking along the side of the road. I didn't notice any place for curbside pick-up for groceries.

3) Visually, the store is eye candy. Vegetables are crisscrossed strategically like woven fabrics. They do a great job of stacking produce vertically.

4) Sale items were a good deal, but many of the national brands were easily priced 30-50% more than the local Price Chopper or Hannaford.

5) I was completely disappointed that Whole Foods doesn't actually connect to Colonie Center. You have to go outside to go between the mall and the store. Seems silly to have given up all that foot traffic.

Great. Whole Foods! I love new businesses coming into the area. However, wouldn't it be great if we spread the wealth a bit? Why put TJs, Whole Foods, and Honest Weight so close together? Surely, there would be other towns that could handle this and expand the shopping area. I live in East Greenbush and I would have loved this on our side of the river.

@Jim: Sure, there are some big differences. But have a look at the two stores: Market Bistro | Whole Foods.

At the very least, they're riding some of the same design trends. And I'd be very surprised if Price Chopper had not extensively scouted Whole Foods (and many other chains) during the design process for Market Bistro.

@J Welf: We haven't done the price comparison for a few years now because it had basically become the same thing over and over (and frankly, we'd gotten kind of tired of doing it). But we'll probably pick it up again sometime this year -- we've been waiting for all the new options to settle in. And as you suggest, we've been thinking about creating multiple "shopping lists" in order to be able to compare apples to apples and organic apples to organic apples.

So, yes, look forward to seeing us with furrowed brow trying to reconcile how the exact same brand can have multiple different package sizes at different outlets.

@Catherine: I think a big part of it is just that Colonie is more or less the geographic center of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy triangle, and there are relatively easy routes from different directions. And these things tend to have a snowball effect, so each additional store increases the likelihood another. So Colonie/Latham pretty much gets all this sort of stuff.

Also, I got the sense Whole Foods kind of liked the idea of being at the mall -- the company spokesperson cited the success of some of their other stores like that (Paramus, New Jersey, specifically). But we also talked a bit about other locations, because the company has said it sees the Albany metro as a multiple-store area, potentially. While nothing specific was mentioned, the spokesperson said they wouldn't necessarily be averse to some location that wasn't immediately obvious or where they might be leading the way a bit more. He cited the company's relatively new Detroit store as an example where they made a bit of a leap and it's apparently paid off.

Speaking to the demographic change, anecdotally, which may somehow correlate to the "snowball effect", mentioned above:

Moved in to behind Colonie Center - a look at Google Maps will indicate what apartment complex I live in - in December 2009, coming up on 5 years ago.

At that time 90-95% of the population were folks of retirement age or South Indian families. Whatever the number, it was a dominant percentage.

Now? Probably half of my building is 20-35 years old, of varying ethnicities. Still have that original population around (the common area/playground is a constant battle of bocce versus badminton or soccer) but the times are definitely a-changing around here.

I hope my rent doesn't reflect that, even more than the already-existing yearly increases... But on the other hand, since I always hear that "people [your] age don't want cars", which in my case is true, we might get more decent crosswalks and sidewalks around here, and drivers that actually give a damn if you're already halfway across with the signal.

I'm a bit flabbergasted to find more partisan political speech in these comments - and hotter arguments - than in any of the response to political articles on All over Albany. It goes to show that if you want to get the citizens of the Capital District talking about a subject, bring up supermarkets.

Why can't we all just get along?

I love to shop HWFC (been a member for 15 years) and I think the new store is amazing, Customer service is so important - a smile, eye contact and simple kindness, make such a difference in life - and I am consistently blown away by the helpfulness and genuine friendliness of the staff at HWFC.

Prices are a little higher there but I am willing to shop there for the sense of community.

Our family likes Trader Joe's snacks (chips and nuts) and prepared foods.

We kind of food shop all over, keeping sort of a running grocery list. Price Chopper, HWFC, Trader Joe's (Save-a-Lot - don't laugh) and farmer's markets. (And our secret weapon - Ocean State Job Lots. If you hit it on the right day you can score some serious bargains on prepared foods - even organics.) PC and HWFC are main destination shopping, while TJ, SAL and OSJL are places we stop if we are driving by. I might work in WF, but will wait until the opening crowds die down a little.

And not to poop the party, but as we continue this discussion about the best places to food shop let us remember that the poor are always with us. Let's be thankful that we have so many choices in food shopping while so many can barely feed their families at even bargain priced supermarkets - and then have to wait for a bus to schlep their groceries home.

I was at the store last night - a huge disappointment. The place is very cramped - narrow aisles, and the displays were not what I was expecting from Whole Foods. Beyond the meat selection, I think Honest Weight is better and the shopping experience and general ambiance of the co-op is far better.

@theshakes. I'm sorry there's no comparison. Yeah, workers at Whole Foods may make $10 an hour, but $billions in profits go to a few international wealthy shareholders. It's Wal-Mart in sheep's clothing. I see very little difference. Price Chopper is at least locally headquartered and Honest Weight has thousands of individual member owners. I was at Whole Foods last night, and I've never seen such a grossly ballyhooed place. It ain't that great.

Just a fact check 85% of Whole Foods is held by Institutional Investors. Meaning that a lot more of the stock is held by Mutual Funds which would be everyday people holding the stock for their retirement. That would make this statement completely inaccurate- "profits go to a few international wealthy shareholders". Do your homework always before you make statements that are involving public companies their info is all published in their 10Q's and K's. Also their products 65% of them come from small family businesses in the USA not China..not like Wal-mart...

Went to Whole Foods on Opening Day - way too busy to make an opinion, but I was worried....

Went back this morning - i think I can officially say I am "disappointed". Maybe I am spoiled, but my wife and I are used to going to the Whole Foods stores in Paramus and Portland, Maine...this store seriously lacks in comparison. It seems like every department is an inferior version of "what could have been"...I always enjoy the nice displays of produce, meat, fish, coffee...the prepared foods, the places to get lunch (pizza, burritos, shawarma, etc.). We always liked that different stores have different things - candy displays, immense bakeries, gelato, vast aisles, terrific beer selections (wont get into wine....).

As I walked around today, I got the feeling like the first time I was in Fresh Market....like, "where is the rest of the store?" The butcher is nice....but pales in comparison. Same with the seafood....the produce...the prepared foods...the beer selection...just seems like the Albany store got the "light" version of everything, like it was an inner-city version of the store.

I gave the place a quick look on Sunday- and was surprised that while it was noon and the store was busy there was plenty of parking close to the store. It seems nice, but the aisles are pretty narrow.

I then went to Trader Joe's and OMG THERE ARE SIX PARKING SPACES OPEN!!!!!!

The meat section looked very tired. A good portion of the beef had a greenish ring around it. Doubt they move too much of it. Was looking to buy pork tenderloins, no way I will pay $15 per pound. Nice looking store overall though.

@Daniel B.: You're going to rag on Honest Weight based on their choice of bank? Are you actually being serious here? I know you pride yourself on being "fussy", but this takes fussy to a whole new level.

There's a fine reason why this national chain is nicknamed Whole Paycheck. There are some lovely things there, to be sure, but the prices are sky high. Go for a particular specialty item, if the owner's politics don't make you gag, but Whole Paycheck is simply NOT a place to do your regular grocery shopping. As Crazy Eddie used to shout in NYC, "The prices are INSANE!"

For years, I longed for Whole Foods. My daughter always lived in WF territory. By the time they committed to opening here, we had the HW, Fresh Market, wonderful new Shop Rites and of course, Trader Joe's. Now there .is the new PC in Latham that is a clone of Wegman's .I went on opening day, which was stupid, but I live on the other side of the river and as the years go on, I get more and more reluctant to drive on I90. My hair stylist is near SUNY, so every six weeks I buy wine, chicken breasts and cat food at BJ's,load up at TJ's and perhaps pop into Barnes& Noble
or Sephora for a minute.
So I went to WFM. I thought the produce department was very tight---the aisles narrow. It opened well over a month ago and I haven't been back. Not sure why. I used to go to Northampton once a month to go to TJ's and WFM, about the same distance apart as they are in Colonie. I still don't get why either Whole Foods or Trader Joe's didn't open in the old Barnes & Noble building.
I think the Coop is way more expensive than any place else, and I just don't like their system. I don't mind labeling my bulk items, but I don't like doing it for produce. And their meat is outrageous. I also think they have a bit of an attitude if you're not a member. I feel that way at The Bookhouse at Styvesant Plaza- they sort -of look down their nose if you're buying a mystery and not obscure Estonian literature.

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