The organic superstore Whole Foods has insisted it will not give up on the UK market, despite the division trebling its losses last year.
Whole Foods' troubleshooter Jeff Turnas, who was parachuted in to take charge of the group's five UK stores last month, insists he will win British consumers round. "I think it's pretty well documented what has happened to the economy in recent times … but we have a good core of customers who shop with us regularly and we continue to look for sites for new stores."
Whole Foods' flagship UK store, in the former Barkers department store building in Kensington, west London, opened its doors in June 2007. The group also runs a handful of Whole Foods convenience stores, formerly trading as Fresh & Wild in affluent districts of London.
As well as battling against the economic tide, Whole Foods' UK operations have been beset with teething problems. A store in Bristol was heavily loss-making and has since been shut down. Meanwhile the Kensington emporium, billed as Britain's first green supermarket, has been criticised for a lack of customer parking and operating a costly fish counter, out-sized and underused.
The group made an operating loss for the year to 30 September 2008 of £36m, widening from a £9.9m shortfall for the previous 12 months. Turnas insisted underlying performance showed losses remained broadly flat, but the group had been forced to take a further accounting charge of £27.1m to reflect revised expectations for the business.
Parent group Whole Foods Market Inc has already been forced to write off almost £50m relating to their efforts to establish a foothold in the UK.
Turnas said: "We understand the difficulties of starting out in a new country. We had a similar experience in Canada where we struggled initially. We don't see it as any different in the UK." New stores will be opened in upmarket areas, Turnas said, but not outside Greater London.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016