Whole Foods launches pilot Wellness Club in Oakland store
on September 22, 2011
Starting this week, Whole Foods shoppers in Oakland can pick up nutrition and fitness tips to go with their groceries. The natural food retailer has just launched the Wellness Club—a program that offers classes, workshops, lectures and a 10 percent discount on food products that the program deems whole, unprocessed and healthy. Oakland’s Lake Merritt store is the only Whole Foods location on the west coast to host the pilot program, which will operate in five sites throughout the country. The Dedham, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois programs began earlier this summer while the New York City and Princeton, New Jersey pilots are set to launch this fall.
“Oakland has such a diverse community, especially where this store is located,” said Wellness Club team leader Caesaré Assad, referring to why the city was chosen by Whole Foods executives for the pilot program. “We are in a unique position where we can really reach out to a lot of people.”
In addition to the 10 percent discount on designated foods, Wellness Club members will have unlimited access to cooking and nutrition classes hosted at the store, as well as daily instructional store tours providing information on healthy shopping. Club members can also participate in weekly support meetings and, for additional fees, take part in supper clubs, private cooking instruction and one-on-one lifestyle coaching, all on-site. The Lake Merritt location will also offer on-site fitness classes led by instructors from Soja Mind & Body martial arts studio as well as discounts at participating local businesses.
“We’re partnering with martial arts studios, gyms, yoga studios and individual Pilates instructors,” Assad said. “Also acupuncturists, chiropractors—people from all steps of wellness so that our members really get exposed to different lifestyles and can pick and choose and find what works best for them.” Oakland’s Wellness Club will also be the only one to host an on-site medical doctor who will provide private consultations for an additional fee.
Members will pay a $45 monthly charge, as well as a $195 registration charge. Non-members are welcome to attend all events, but they will be charged additional fees.
According to Assad, Los Angeles doctors Alona Pulde and Matthew Lederman created the Wellness Club program after treating their own patients through food and exercise. “They started focusing on nutrition and fitness and using that as a way to help people get off of medications and to live healthier lifestyles,” Assad said. The duo then teamed up with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and brought registered dietician Jeff Novick on board to develop the Wellness Club.
This week, to promote the program, the Oakland store will host a series of free events, including lectures from Lederman and 30-minute “healthy movement” sessions, and will also waive the $195 Wellness Club registration fee.
Montclair resident Lola Hone was among the first 13 shoppers to sign up for the Wellness Club on Monday, and said she is looking forward to the membership benefits. “I always shop here and I like the quality of the food,” she said. “The classes will be so fun—yoga, wellness, learning about losing weight. And it’s affordable because health is number one.”
“I think it’s great. It shows how Whole Foods so much wants to be a part of the community,” said Oakland resident Melanie Brenner, who was shopping but did not have plans to sign up for a membership. “Obviously, a healthier lifestyle starts with the food that you eat—I think it’s a great opportunity for the people of Oakland.”
But other shoppers were skeptical that the program will effectively reach community members who are unable to pay monthly fees. “It’s really good, I just think the prices are inaccessible,” said Kasey Lindsay, an instructor at the neighboring Clausen House, a facility that assists adults with developmental disabilities, who had brought one of her clients into Whole Foods in order to use its free blood pressure monitoring machine. “They have in their mission statement that everyone can eat healthy and be healthy, and you can’t for $45 a month. ”
Some of those who supported the program pointed out that it comes with a price tag that not everyone can afford. “It’s very clear that there is a very affluent part of Oakland and they are willing to come here and willing to spend money,” Brenner said. “It would be interesting to see if Whole Foods is planning to have some sort of sliding scale program so that it doesn’t exclude other members of Oakland.”
Assad said she has already read online comments on stories about the club criticizing its cost and suggesting that people stay fit without paying membership costs by buying food elsewhere and maintaining their own healthy diets. “If people knew how to do that, half of our country wouldn’t be obese and half of our country wouldn’t have diabetes,” Assad said. “Most urban areas have a lack of access. For people who wouldn’t really come into the store normally, with the 10 percent discount and the education they’re going to get on how to shop in the store, they can feed themselves for $5 a day and eat healthy.”
Assad said that to encourage more people to sign up for the Wellness Club, the Lake Merritt location will continue to waive the $195 processing fee through November 1. “We’re trying to remove barriers,” she said. “I definitely see people from all walks of life in this store. It’s just a matter of connecting with those people on the resource that’s here. And hey, if you can’t afford it, you just have to come talk to me and we’ll find a way to make it work.”
Assad said the Oakland store plans to do more community outreach by bringing the club’s lectures and classes into schools and other organizations. The store also plans to offer free memberships to teachers and members of certain non-profits.
The Oakland Whole Foods location will begin its regular Wellness Club programming schedule on October 2. Shoppers can continue to sign up for membership in-store and have the processing fee waived through November 1.
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