Last spring I heard a rumor a Whole Foods Market was coming to my area of town. A Whole Foods? All the way over here? Could it be? I’ve been lucky enough to live in towns with Whole Foods for the last 5 years, but never one that was less than a 20 minute drive away.
Slowly, but surely a building started to rise from the empty lot, a Whole Foods Markets sign went up, and I stalked the new Facebook page waiting for any indication of opening day. Once the opening day was announced (November 1st!), another message quickly followed offering reservations for a sneak peek tour of the new store before the grand opening. The tours were $5 and all proceeds would benefit the Bob Sierra YMCA scholarship fund to help support our youth. Sign me up!
side note: Though I’ve worked with Whole Foods Markets in the past, I was NOT contacted by Whole Foods to take this tour. I saw the note on Facebook just like everyone else, registered on my own, and paid the $5 out of my own pocket. I’m a HUGE grocery store nerd and would have taken the tour whether I blog or not, I just had so much fun, I wanted to share what I learned – especially for my local Tampa readers who are just as curious about the new store as I was! </end>
They had tours going every 15 minutes throughout the day, so I registered for the 3:30 tour. When I arrived the parking lot was packed and there were people waiting outside. From what I heard they sold out almost every tour slot – that’s a lot of money going to a great cause!
Bags filled with store flyers and a water bottle were handed to everyone at the beginning of the tour. We were also handed goodies at different spots of the tours to add to our bags. I came home with lip balm, yummy chocolates, maple cheese planks, mints, and a few other items that more than made up for the $5 donation to take the tour.
The tour itself was oddly fascinating (grocery store nerd – right here!). The other Whole Foods Market in Tampa is pretty small, so this one was HUGE in comparison. Not quite as large as the Dr. Phillips store in Orlando, but definitely much larger than the one we have now.
The tour was broken down in departments. We had the opportunity to hear a little bit about the store through each department’s team leader. First up was produce, which is my favorite section of any grocery store. I love exploring the fruit and vegetables and trying anything interesting or exotic that may be in stock.
We sampled pineapple and heard a little bit about how the produce is labeled (organic = no fertilizer or pesticides were used to grow the fruit/vegetable, conventional = the grower is not considered organic, but Whole Foods has high standards to ensure the fruit/vegetable is of the best quality, local = produce was gown within X amount of miles).
Steve, the produce guy, also encouraged us to ask for samples if there’s ever a piece of produce we’re curious about and want to try before buying. This became a running theme through the rest of the store. Every team leader couldn’t emphasize enough how happy they are to provide a sample if you’re not quite sure about something. That’s something I’ll need to remember in the future. 😉
Whole Body was up next.
First of all, I loved how passionate the Whole Body team leader was. I wish I’d gotten his name because he really was an awesome guy who was so knowledgable and full of great information of what was stocked on his shelves. He explained the various regulations and standards that Whole Foods enforces for all the products on the shelves (did you know there are no nationally regulated standards for beauty products that are labeled organic?) and shared background on his favorite products. He wasn’t trying to sell us on anything, just educate.
After Whole Body, we were ushered to the Health Starts Here team, which was lead by the healthy eating specialists for both the Tampa and new Carrollwood stores.
Health Starts Here is Whole Foods Market’s way of introducing and encouraging healthy eating in the community. They host weekly cooking classes and store tours in-store, but they also visit local schools and fire stations to perform cooking demonstrations and share their nutrient-rich diet approach. I’ve always wanted to take one of their cooking classes, and now that I have a store nearby, I might just actually do it.
The team leader didn’t just share what goes into a healthy diet, but also what went into building this store. Like the recycled glass and chicken wire at the registers, the rain water that’s collected outside and used to water the plants, or the scraps of jeans used as installation in the building’s roof – pretty cool right? Even the chairs outside are made of recycled plastic. Basically the whole building is a huge example of recycling/repurposing and not letting anything go to waste.
We were handed a recipe.
And some brownies to sample.
I’m not a fan of date-based bites, so I was a little nervous digging in. Fortunately the dates weren’t strong at all, instead it tasted like I was biting into a big ole’ ball of peanut butter. Yummy.
Another favorite section was up next – seafood.
If I had a bajillion dollars I would eat nothing but seafood every night of the week, but it’s so $$$ that I usually only eat it on special occasions. Our guide inspired me to splurge a little more when it comes to seafood. Again, he was uber- passionate (everyone that works for this company loves what they do so much – how could that passion not rub of?!) and very knowledgeable when it comes to fish. He walked us through the various labels Whole Foods use, including their high standards when it comes to farm raised fish (no hormone injections, etc). For their fresh caught selections, if you see green the fish is abundant and fishing methods cause little damage to their population, if you see yellow they may not have as abundant of a population or fishing methods may cause some harm, and if you see red the population is low (you will not find these in Whole Foods).
We sampled shrimp that were cooked in a Key Lime Oil I plan on purchasing on opening day.
I should note that all of the killer Opening Specials happening at the Carrollwood Whole Foods for the grand opening will be around for 2 weeks post-store opening. They will also have the exact same sales going on at the Tampa store. So if you want something for the awesome price – but don’t feel like fighting the crowds at the new store – head to the old store for the same deal.
I learned something new about organic meat regulations. Do you know if an organic chicken is cut on the same board as a conventional chicken, then it’s technically not considered organic anymore? Everything that is sliced, chopped, and handled in the meat department is carefully logged and documented to keep 100% with the crazy organic standards. No mixing of knives or chopping blocks allowed!
We sampled bites of sausage in the meat department. It was unexpectedly spicy and I was happy to have that water in my welcome bag.
Check out that dairy section!
Something I noticed about the new store – all of the refrigerated cases have doors. I’m not sure why that is – or why I noticed? – but definitely something that stood out in my mind. They’re renovating the old store to have the same look – maybe it’s a new grocery store trend? Trying to keep up with the times?
Grocery department time!
We learned a little bit about various labels through the store (gluten free, local, Whole Trade, NonGMO certified, organic, etc) and how to spot what we’re looking for. One thing that I’ve always appreciated about Whole Foods Market is how well everything is labeled. If you ever have a question about what a product contains or where it hails from, the answer can usually be found relatively quickly on the front of the box or on a label on the shelf. All products found on Whole Foods Markets’ shelves are free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes. All of the eggs in store are cage free and the bakery only uses cage free eggs in their baked goods.
Another department I wish I had a bajillion dollars to spend in. For now I’ll just take advantage of the free samples of parmesan.
Psstt… Whole Foods sell the parmesan rinds at a discounted price. I was told that that if you soak the rinds for a couple of hours, then bake them, they can be a mighty scrumptious snack. 😉
Now, what every Whole Foods is famous for – their prepared food section.
I’m such a sucker for colorful chalkboard specials.
Don’t the pretty colors and fonts make you want to order something right now?
Not all of the prepared foods are made on site. If you’re not sure about something – don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. The majority of items are for sale by the pound – if you just want a scoop of mac&cheese, then get just a scoop of mac&cheese.
We sampled pumpkin tortellini with butternut squash.
It was good, but would have been better warmed up.
Bakery/ coffee shop
Fun fact: if you bring a reusable coffee cup or tumbler to Whole Foods, then your drink is only $1. <- must take advantage!
I’m VERY excited about the juice bar going in!!!! Our Tampa store was missing one and it was definitely something that I missed from my Orlando store. I can’t wait to come here for fresh juice and smoothies!
They also have cookies by the pound
Which we had the opportunity to try.
p.s. the lemon cookie is delicious
Let’s see. What else did I miss?
They’re pickling their own pickles in store (can’t wait to pick up a jar of these!)
The registers all ready to go.
There is a place to eat inside, but it’s tiny compared to what I’ve seen at other stores.
There are also some outside options which would have been particularly inviting on a beautiful day like today.
Overall the new store really impressed me. It’s a great size, clean, and simply gorgeous. I can’t wait to take advantage of all the great deals ($1.99/lb grapes and honeycrisp apples to name a few!) this week and I look forward to many, many, many visits in the near future.
Welcome to Carrollwood, Whole Foods Market! We are SO HAPPY to have you here!
Obviously I spoiled my dinner with all of the yummy samples, so I kept dinner simple with a Pumpkin Protein Smoothie (I could seriously have one of these everyday and not grow tired of them) tonight.
Alright, it’s time for this grocery store nerd to get to bed.
Have you ever done taken a grocery store tour? They do them before every Whole Foods Market grand opening – if you have a store opening near you, I would highly recommend it!
p.s. My thoughts are with all of my NE friends tonight. Please stay safe up there!