Going food shopping is not generally considered a fun way to spend time, according to most people I know. But that has changed with the recent opening in Colorado Springs of a second Wild Oats Market and the arrival of its rival, Whole Foods Market.
Wild Oats, first established in Boulder, opened its Academy Boulevard and Union location about 10 years ago. That site seems quaintly old-fashioned compared to the new store out on what used to be shortgrass prairie but is now the cleverly named First & Main Town Center. (Ah, marketing!) It's actually the intersection of Powers and Constitution; Wild Oats is sited to the north.
The store is brightly lighted and glowing with warm colors, wide aisles and tempting displays. "Food You Can Trust" is the corporate mantra in evidence throughout. The store brand items are available as Wild Oats Organic, Wild Oats Natural, and Wild Oats Living (nonfood items). Nothing in the store contains hydrogenated oil. Produce is from local growers whenever possible. Seafood is shipped without preservatives. Beef, pork and poultry are all natural, raised without hormones or antibiotics.
Nuts, beans, cereals, grains, rice and herbs are available in packages or in bulk, a money-saver for those who fear natural and organic foods are too expensive or only need a certain amount of something. People with food allergies will revel in the array of non-gluten pastas (like quinoa pasta) and breads. Folks with a penchant for convenience food will find lots of choices in the frozen food section or the deli section.
Walk slowly toward the deli counters; make sure to browse the cheeses, the crackers and the breads along the way. But onward to the deli salads like Tortellini Verde or Mediterranean Kashi. Sample the "Sea and Earth" (counter folks are eager for you to try their wares) -- a salad of wild rice, wheat berries, nuts, seaweed, bell peppers, soy and sesame. All the deli dishes are gorgeous; some are unusual. How often do you see Seared Kale with Almonds? Throughout the store you'll find booklets full of nutrition information and recipe tips.
You'll also find a significant commitment to local nonprofit organizations through Wild Oats'5% Days. That percentage of pretax revenues goes to a selected community organization. Eat well. Do good.
What's the difference between Wild Oats and Whole Foods? Both are good for you. Both stores are fun to wander through. Both are located in mega-strips along sprawling thoroughfares. Both are community conscious and committed to local food producers. If Wild Oats gets an A, however, Whole Foods gets an A-plus.
Selections are larger, displays a little more polished and, hence, tempting. They've been around a little longer and have, in 24 years, acquired some strong regional natural food markets like Bread and Circus in New England, Food for Thought in Northern California and Harry's Farmers Market in Georgia. Allegro Coffee is a division of Whole Foods. With these mergers and acquisitions have come more polish, more experience, more stock items (and lower prices) and more public relations. They should be a case study at business schools.
The health-conscious consumer, however, is the real winner.
There are over 300 items available in bulk at Whole Foods and at least 30 kinds of fresh fish (depending on the season). There's the Whole Foods Kids line, and their private label, 365 Organic, a value-priced line of everything from pasta sauce to soups. Some cheeses, like a blue Gouda we sampled, are exclusive to Whole Foods. Specialty breads are baked on-site. Boulder-based Glacier Ice Cream uses Whole Foods ingredients to make 24 flavors of ice cream available in only three Whole Foods locations, including ours. This synergistic amalgam of small suppliers and large chain prices seems to be the next generation of natural foods and belies the popular notion that eating organic is too expensive.
There is a large selection of ready-to-eat food: a burrito bar, several soups each day, pizza, baguette sandwiches, quiche and salads. Between these choices and all the samples available throughout the store, you may never cook again.
Best of all, Whole Foods, despite its enormous size, has the feel of a small local market. In a large, colorful open space, customers don't feel lost as they do in many of the mega-sized superstores. That's marketing (and design) magic.
You'll eat well and healthfully in either the new Wild Oats or Whole Foods. Whole Foods' Community Giving Days match Wild Oats' 5% Days. Although each business may have its advocates, from the consumer's point of view, there's no need to choose sides.
And in late May, there will be a third new option as well when Melissa Marts and Lynn Havel open the Tejon Street Market across the street from Poor Richard's downtown. A fraction of the size of Wild Oats and Whole Foods, this store will have mostly natural and/or organic foods but also items for those who crave the occasional Twinkie. A small deli will offer readymade lunch options to the downtown crowd. We'll let you know as the opening nears.
Wild Oats 3180 N. New Center Point 622-1099
Whole Foods 7635 N. Academy Blvd. (at Briargate Boulevard) 531-9999