Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market announced it has created a supplier accelerator program designed to help smaller producers connect with mentors and ultimately see their products launch successfully on store shelves.
The Local and Emerging Accelerator Program (LEAP) is now accepting applications to be part of an initial cohort of 10 suppliers that will receive guidance and tailored education from Whole Foods professionals, the grocer stated in a news release. Participants will complete a 10-week curriculum that offers instruction on everything from accessing financial resources to marketing and packaging design and will work for a year with a Whole Foods local forager who specializes in working with regional suppliers.
Suppliers that complete the program will “have the potential to receive a $25,000 equity investment from a donor-advised fund managed by the Austin Community Foundation,” Whole Foods noted in a news release, adding that selected suppliers’ products will gain placement at Whole Foods Market stores in the supplier’s hometown.
“Since we opened our first store, we have been on the lookout for small, local and emerging producers with products that our customers will love,” Whole Foods VP of Local Merchandising Will Betts said in the grocer’s news release. “Over the years, we’ve helped many of these producers find their footing and grow their businesses, and we are thrilled to formalize this assistance with our Local and Emerging Acceleration Program.”
In 2021 alone, the Amazon-owned company noted, Whole Foods signed on 500 new local brands and debuted 6,500 new local items on store shelves. One new brand to make its Whole Foods debut was Coffee Uplifts People, from radio and podcast host and entrepreneur Angela Yee, which launched in select stores in New York City last summer. The brand has since expanded to all New York City and Long Island stores and is set to grow regionally in 2022, according to Whole Foods.
“In a relatively short time, the relationship between our brands has become a tremendous win-win for each party,” the grocer stated. “Coffee Uplifts People is an excellent example of a supplier that has taken a grassroots approach to launching with Whole Foods Market and grown the brand thoughtfully through relationship-building, hard work and great storytelling.”
Cultivating long-lasting relationships with local suppliers “is something that we’ve always done,” Betts said in a recent interview with WGB. “And we’ve done it pretty individually for a lot of one-on-ones, informally. Because we have a group of teams based all across the country that help with local suppliers, what this is is looking at, ‘Is there a way that we can do it better?’ Is there a way that we can combine our resources and create a better experience for our suppliers? … This is a really great way that we can elevate this program and elevate our support.”
A key focus of the effort is not only helping local suppliers get their products into Whole Foods stores, but also helping suppliers ensure that their products find success once they do, Betts added. Mentorship from local foragers will play a vital role there, he noted. These local-market specialists will work with emerging producers to assess, “How are you pricing, how are you promoting, how are you getting your story out there?” Betts said. “With a lot of our smaller suppliers, they definitely learn that along the way, but with this program we’re hoping to accelerate that so it’s easier and it’s quicker for them.”
Another goal of the program is to aggregate learnings from it and combine all of the notes, discoveries and feedback into a more formalized resource for the Whole Foods supplier community, Betts said. Applications for LEAP are available on Whole Foods’ website and are due April 8; Whole Foods will announce the first round of LEAP participants in late summer, the grocer stated.