Chicago-area Whole Foods expanding in-store bars, restaurants

Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) has planned to open six new stores in the Chicago market, all with in-store dining options and bars. As the grocery store landscape becomes more competitive and more consumers turn to delivery options, the upscale chain is hoping to drive traffic into its stores.

"Simply put, we're looking for ways to make the places more appealing," Michael Bashaw, president of Whole Foods' Midwest region, told Crain's. "If bricks-and-mortar [grocers] are going to survive, they must offer a compelling experience to customers."

At one location in the Streeterville neighborhood, Whole Foods has partnered with Raw Foods to start offering vegan and raw food options. In addition, the new store, which opens Jan. 28, will feature a full-service bar and expanded coffee stand.

Whole Foods has had success already with this concept in its Lincoln Park mega-store location, one of the original locations to feature full-service bars. In total, 110 out of 406 Whole Foods stores are using the concept to try and build a more social grocery shopping experience.

"Customer response has been very strong, and it's a rapidly growing category for us," Bashaw told Crain's. "Our customers have told us what they want by strongly patronizing (the in-store bars). Given the response, we're going to do more of that."

Whole Foods is on the right track, knowing it will take a fundamental change to in-store shopping in order to compete with the rising popularity in click-and-collect or grocery delivery services in the United States.

Just last week, online grocery delivery service Instacart announced it had secured $220 million in Series C financing from investors, led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The company grew revenue by more than 10 times in 2014, doubling revenue alone in just the fourth quarter.

And just last month, e-commerce giant Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) announced an expansion of its same-day grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh.

Whole Foods opened a record 13 new stores in 2014 and expanded into seven new markets. The expansion will continue into fiscal 2015, with an expected 38 to 42 new stores.

For more:
-See this Crain's article

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