The Austin, Texas-based grocery chain outfit is going to launch a different sort of store in West Hollywood, Calif., in October. Rather than selling the company's usual fare of all-natural foodstuffs, the new concept will tout organic and environmentally friendly clothing and housewares, world music, and books and magazines concerned with sustainable living.
Whole Foods' plan to diversify may worry some observers. After all, the best companies tend to concentrate on their core businesses. We're talking about a grocer here, and everyone knows selling food is a lot different from selling jeans and curtains.
Still, Whole Foods may not be so out of bounds in testing these new waters. In its operations, the company emphasizes that it takes principles like healthy living, social responsibility, and eco-friendliness to heart. Its efforts in this vein extend way beyond selling food grown without potentially harmful pesticides or hormones. Whole Foods stands out by providing employees with health benefits and a 401(k) plan and paying them for community service. In addition, several of the firm's stores run on wind or solar power.
Whole Foods has gone to great lengths to make its brand synonymous with a lifestyle -- and lifestyle brands can be quite versatile. Starbucks
But the Whole Foods-Starbucks analogy can be pushed only so far. While Starbucks used its existing locations to hawk new items, Whole Foods will create an entirely different store. Launching a new stand-alone venture is a bold move. But the potential rewards seem to justify the risk.
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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.