photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
Depending on the layout of your local Whole Foods, each department may have a back room or there may be a single communal area for all departments. Most have some designated space of their own since each department has unique needs and processing to accomplish. In my experience, nothing particularly scandalous happened outside of tasting new products or sharing particularly trying customer service experiences. But there’s still plenty to learn from what goes on backstage (at least for now—the recent purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon may change everything):
This is where the cheese gets cut. When you see the in-house labeling, that means your cheese was cut fresh in the store. Antipasto salads and seasoned olive mixes are sometimes handled at the store level, as well. And small pieces of cheese and runaway olives surely make it into employees’ mouths from time to time.
Green smoothies are made from old fruit and spinach. Some stores have a dedicated back of house staff to cut fruit throughout the day for your on-the-go snacks. This is some of the most overpriced fruit in the store, and it’s probably not organic.
In the back of the Whole Body department, conversations around supplement uses and interactions are happening. If you’ve gone in there with a question, the employee may go in the back room and Google the answer if they don’t know it offhand. It’s also a department that deals with a lot of kooky customers looking to cure ailments, so some great stories are passed around back here.
New shipments of body care and supplements get unpacked before they’re shelved. Some stores have a good amount of back stock while others do not. Each department has buyers, who are responsible for the ordering in the department. Predicting purchasing trends isn’t an easy task, and it may impact what’s available for you.
Most stores do some in-house baking. Ingredients may come premixed so the team members simply combine ingredients and bake. Breads are typically frozen upon arrival at the store, and then they’re baked for that warm and fresh-from-the-oven appeal.
Usually, one person is stuck in the dairy case for many hours at a time. In all seasons that person will bring hoodies, jackets, hats, vests, and gloves to withstand the cold as they’re keeping your favorite Greek yogurt stocked.
If your store offers delivery services, there are large refrigerators where deliveries are stored with produce back stock before being loaded onto the van.
Back of house operations includes filtering customer calls to various departments, team member breaks, and gossip. If you ask if an item that’s not available at your local store is available at another store, this investigation is not simple. There’s no Whole Foods database that stores the ordering info for every location. Instead, a team member will have to call the local stores one at a time. So understand that this is a process and the team member helping you may need some time to find out.