Walter Robb, co-CEO of upscale grocer Whole Foods, recently made some bold statements during a panel called “Value and Values: Building a High-Performance Company” at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference 2013 in Los Angeles.
Robb declared that he is opening the chain’s first store in Detroit for reasons other than just making money — specifically, to take down elitism and racism, reports the Huffington Post.
The first Whole Foods storefront in the city of Detroit is opening on June 5th.
“What we’re trying to do in Detroit stretch the culture, stretch the mission a little bit,” Robb said during the discussion. “Culture is a living, breathing thing. It’s happening all the time. For us, in Detroit, I see thousands of communities across the United States don’t have fresh healthy food.”
Robb said he hoped Whole Foods could make a difference by bringing healthy food to an area that he said is void of healthy food options. The city, however, supports more than 100 grocers. This includes the historic food district Eastern Market, which offers farm-fresh produce and meats. And, Lafayette Foods and Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe both recently opened stores within not far from the Whole Foods’ upcoming location. Even upscale Michigan grocery chain Papa Joe’s will be opening a full-service gourmet emporium in downtown Detroit.
Still Whole Foods feels there is a need for their products. “In Detroit, within the 138 square miles, the life expectancy is 12 years less than outside the city limits,” Robb said. “That just happened to be, the story is too long for today, why we started there. We have a particular set of skills. We’re going there to participate in the community.”
According to Robb, the chain will be very involved in the community. “We’ve tried to put the community first in this effort,” said Robb. “I know that we’re learning as much as we’re giving. Not only are we going after the affordability and the accessibility… we’re going after these hard issues. Because we’re going after elitism, we’re going after racism. Detroit’s 90 percent African-American.” Actually, according to the most recent Census data Detroit’s African-American population is 82.7 percent.
The community also wanted Whole Foods to open. Local leaders, reports HuffPo, persuaded the company by offering $4.2 million in community funds and tax credits and incentives from the city and state.
Although the Whole Foods will be opening, will the community be able to afford the healthy food products, which tend to cost more? Eating healthier food can add almost 10 percent to the average American’s food bill, found a 2011 study published in Health Affairs, reports Reuters.