Whole Foods Market will begin accepting applications for its Local and Emerging Accelerator Program on March 1. The program, which supports the company’s longstanding core value of seeking win-win partnerships with local suppliers, will offer mentorship directly from Whole Foods Market experts, tailored education for small and emerging producers and the potential for financial support to promote business growth. Additionally, selected producers’ products will gain placement on the shelves of their home city’s Whole Foods Market stores.
“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. 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,” said Will Betts, Vice President of Local Merchandising at Whole Foods Market. “Our first cohort will include 10 promising local producers, who will be supported with education, industry expertise and mentorship.”
In 2021 alone, the company added 500 new local brands to its supplier roster and 6,500 new local items to shelves.
How to Apply
To apply to be a member of the Local and Emerging Accelerator Program cohort, please fill out an application by April 8. Selected cohort members will be announced in late summer.
Members of the initial cohort will participate in a 10-week curriculum taught by Whole Foods Market experts, undergo a yearlong mentorship with a Local Forager and have access to other growth-related supplier benefits.
Because Whole Foods Market may carry products from selected suppliers, among other requirements, all products must meet Whole Foods Market quality standards and product safety requirements prior to being unveiled in the stores.
Supplier participants who successfully complete the program have the potential to receive a $25,000 equity investment from a donor-advised fund managed by the Austin Community Foundation, with proceeds benefiting Whole Foods Market’s private operating Foundations.
Several national brands that began as little more than sparks nurtured by the relentless dedication of their founders have grown with support from Whole Foods Market’s experts and, at times, investments from the company’s Local Producer Loan Program.
Grown from Whole Foods Market’s local category to a brand now ubiquitous across multiple retailers, Vital Farms is a prime example of growth through informal nourishment by our local and global experts. The support also included a $100,000 Local Producer Loan Program loan as well as an equity investment from Whole Foods Market.
“The team at Whole Foods Market has been so much more than a customer; they’ve been a partner in our mission to bring ethical food to the table for 15 years,” said Matt O’Hayer, founder and executive chairman of Vital Farms. “In fact, when I founded Vital Farms in 2007, I was inspired by Whole Foods’ practice of Conscious Capitalism, a stakeholder-driven business model that we’ve practiced from then until today. In our earlier days, I wanted to bring high-quality pasture-raised eggs to households across the country but needed a scalable channel beyond local farmers markets. Whole Foods Market was our first national customer. They shared our commitment to ethical food production and played an important role in growing our brand to what it is today.”
A unique aspect of Whole Foods Market’s approach to local is that supplier success is defined by meeting producers where they are in their growth process and supporting them along that journey. For example, One Mighty Mill, a Whole Foods Market supplier of three years, is well-loved by its home North Atlantic Region, winning Supplier of the Year in 2019. With guidance from our local experts and the benefit of two Local Producer Loan Program loans, the company built a supply chain of organic farms and stone mills and now sells products in our Northeast, North Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic regions.
“Our friends and partners within Whole Foods believed in and personally invested in, our vision. Whole Foods Market leadership answers countless questions, participates in our calls, taste-tests bread, reviews packaging, all while advising and encouraging us at every step,” said Jon Olinto, co-founder of One Mighty Mill. “Ultimately, in our case, the success of our growth within Whole Foods Market was driven by a real, personal relationships with members of regional leadership, who truly care about the success of their suppliers. We absolutely can’t do this alone and the surest way for us to win is by building our brand together with the support and guidance of our partners at Whole Foods Market.”