Detroit's New Whole Foods Market Gets Mixed Reviews

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Detroit's New Whole Foods Market Gets Mixed Reviews
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Whole Foods opened a new store in Detroit on June 5. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/cbroders.)

Mighty food giant Whole Foods Market opened its doors in Detroit at 115 Mack Ave. on June 5, says the Detroit News. The city, called a "food desert" for its lack of access to fresh food markets, now offers locals more food choices. But the expensive, upscale vendor is getting mixed reviews. Here's a look at the big picture on Whole Foods in Detroit.

Poverty and Obesity Concerns

Whole Foods could be a solution to two Detroit problems: poverty and obesity. First, Whole Foods brings jobs: two-thirds of employees at the new store are locals. Poverty is linked to weight problems: Low-income kids tend to be obese, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Price Concerns

One-stop shopping is more cost-effective, said Jenne Hammelink from Muskegon, Michigan. There's no Whole Foods in her town, but Hammelink shopped there when traveling in Chicago. She said it was easier and more affordable for vacation food shopping.

Detroit-area resident Tom Nardone disagreed. "I live in one of the most expensive suburbs of Detroit, and most of my friends and neighbors avoid Whole Foods because of the high prices."

Fresh Access Gap

Obesity runs in low-income, rural, and predominantly minority communities because fresh food is scarce, says the CDC. Filmmaker and health advocate Bryon Hurt looked at the poverty-minority-obesity connection in his documentary "Soul Food Junkies." He found poorer, minority communities had one grocery store for every 10,000 people, compared to three in wealthier areas. Low-income people had to buy produce from gas stations and convenience stores.

Nardone said Whole Foods only widens that gap. "I do volunteer work in Detroit and cannot comprehend how most of people who suffer from living in a fresh food wasteland are going to afford to shop at Whole Foods. Who will save Detroit next, Tiffany & Co.?"

Cost vs. Quality

Hurt talked to advocates who discovered vendors in minority communities selling low-quality produce and charging full price. Whole Foods may be pricey, but it promises natural, organic food; sustainable seafood; and high-quality meat.

Local is big at Whole Foods, too. Detroit-based Avalon International Breads is featured at the Cass store. The store's website says, "We look forward to offering a wide range of local products ranging from Avalon baked goods, McClure's pickles, Good People Popcorn, Garden Fresh salsa and chips, along with a great selection of seasonal Michigan produce."

Other Detroit Fresh Markets

Whole Foods isn't the only fresh vendor; Detroit is home to several inner-city garden and farm markets. Some are run by youthful entrepreneurs like Brightmoor Youth Garden (near Fenkell and Eliza Howell Park). The Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthworks (1264 Meldrum) is a community cooperative nonprofit. Detroit's venerable Eastern Market (2934 Russell) brings local products in from around the area.

Detroiter Stephen Cook said, "If locals can get to Whole Foods to get food at suburbanized prices, why can't they get to the Eastern Market area, where you can buy reasonably priced fresh produce any day of the week? There are many retail shops in that area open almost every day."

Whole Foods isn't the only grocery, either. The Detroit News says Grand Rapids-based Meijer is coming to Detroit this summer.

What do you think, Detroiters? Will you shop at the new Detroit Whole Foods?

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