SEATTLE (FNS) -- Cooking and lifestyle classes at the Whole Foods Market unit here are used to help position the operator as a destination location for ingredients, information and inspiration -- not simply as a pantry-filling provider.
In the operator's Salud! Cooking & Lifestyle School, in-store masters along with local guest chefs and community experts bring attendees a breadth of offerings ranging from presentations on health and wellness issues to lifestyle tips to cooking classes.
The in-store classroom affords attendees the opportunity to explore new ideas in cooking, meet local chefs, learn about healthy life options, create gifts, get involved in crafts and design floral arrangements or learn gardening tips. Classes usually cost $10 per person, with Whole Foods Market gift certificates handed out at the conclusion of the experience as a thank you. Preregistration is encouraged.
During the month of April Whole Foods Market presented a three part "Rejuvenation -- 21-Day Detox for Optimal Health" session, "Introduction to Acupuncture" and "Yoga Introduction." On the craft side, classes included "Create a Living Floral Wreath for Spring," "Springtime Aroma Therapy Candle Making" and "Easter Cookies for Kids." Individual products were featured in "The Joy of Soy," "Gouda Gouda" and "Yerba Mate" (a South American tonic tea). Local chefs were spotlighted celebrating the Thai New Year and Japanese cooking.
The backbone of Salud! is in its food-education and cooking classes. "Cook Right for Your Type" was presented by a local health provider based on the best-selling book "Eat Right for Your Type." Another led the class "Strategies for Vegetarian Cooking on a Budget."
"Passover -- A Traditional Menu" was presented by an in-store chef from the prepared-food department the week prior to the holiday. SN attended this event undercover to discover Whole Foods Market's secrets to success.
Physically, Salud! is positioned adjacent to the front end. Glass doors and windows give the area prime visibility from both inside the store and from street level. This visibility encourages drop-ins during sessions. During the Passover session, customers frequently stopped by to gather recipes and observe for a brief while. The operator emphasized accessibility to ingredients and confidence-building through education and exposure when it comes to putting together a dish.
Equipment-wise, the area is outfitted with a double-door refrigerator, a double oven, a four-burner electric cook top and a dishwasher along with a running water sink. Attendees are seated on bar-style high stools. Eighteen stools were set up for the Passover class, along with a 6-foot clothed table in the rear of the area.
The Passover event presented traditional and authentic selections, with the instructor providing the history of the celebration and traditions of Passover. The class centered on cooking techniques and tips, following along with an educational packet of six recipes. Over the course of the two-hour event, students learned the differences between white and black pepper, how to use a variety of Passover items, such as matzoh meal, and how to dice an onion.
Overt promotion of specific items or identified brands was left up to the attendee's observation. On the cooking school counter were Whole Foods Market's own Whole Kids Honey, Morton & Bassett spices, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, Kineret Matzoh Meal, Manischewitz Wine and Whole Foods Market's own 365 Canola Oil. Each of these items was used as an ingredient in the dishes prepared by the instructor.
Bulk food items, including walnuts and Turkish apricots, were also featured as ingredients. Again, the items were simply on the counter in their bags ready to serve as supporting-cast members in the creations sampled by the attendees.
Passover cooking was backed-up throughout the store, and at the service counter and in the prepared-foods area Easter and Passover fliers promoted a full complement of prepared-food items available during the springtime holidays.
Bookmark shopping lists promoted necessary items in the produce, bakery, meat and seafood departments. Grocery items and specialty items were spotlighted on the bookmark -- one side for Passover items, the other for Easter selections. On the Passover side, matzoh, honey, kosher grape juice, spices, nuts and dried fruits were featured along with olives, kosher wines and chocolate. Traditional Easter selections were featured on the flip side of the bookmark.
During the cooking class attended by SN, the unit's wine buyer introduced students to a wide variety of kosher wines available at Whole Foods Market. She selected two Australian wines from Teal Lake, a Chardonnay and red Shiraz, as perfect pairings with a traditional Passover meal. Samples were made available to attendees over the age of 21, and both items were priced at $12.99.
The combination of food and wine was also presented just prior to Easter in "Eggs and Bubbles," where the unit's wine buyer shared recipes ranging from egg dishes to finger foods, along with champagne cocktails ranging from mimosas to peach bellinis. Champagne selection, whether for ingredients or served as a stand-alone beverage, was covered in the event.
Whole Foods Market's presentation of food-related classes punctuates the operator's stated commitment to whole and natural ingredient offerings and ongoing consumer education.
In another class attended by SN in the chain's Wheaton, Ill., unit, "How to Cook a Turkey-less Vegetarian Thanksgiving Meal" was presented. Again, specific brands or ingredients were not promoted by the guest chef. However, specifically called for ingredients such as Agar (seaweed) Flakes; Ume Plumb Vinegar and Brown Rice Vinegar were introduced and their unique qualities explained. Completed meals were sampled by attendees and recipes were distributed so the creations could be duplicated at home.