Who Wins When Whole Foods Takes Over a Johnnie's Foodmaster?

Image Credit: paulswanson via Flickr

Whole Foods is reportedly looking to take over six of the 10 family-owned Johnnie’s Foodmaster stores in the Boston area in a move we have to imagine will sharply divide our city’s fair shoppers as only grocery store politics can. As we learned last year during the Jamaica Plains Whole Foods brouhaha, people feel pretty strongly about their grocery stores. Though neither Whole Foods nor Johnnie’s Foodmaster people would confirm the talks, the Globe‘s Jenn Abelson and Casey Ross cited several unnamed real estate officials, reporting:

Negotiations are still in the early stages, but Whole Foods wants to move into six of the 10 Johnnie’s Foodmaster sites in Arlington, Brookline, Charlestown, Melrose, South Weymouth, and on Beacon Street in Somerville.

Already, folks have taken to Twitter to express everything from “OMG!!!! @WholeFoods THANK YOU!!” to “why, johnnie? why? #sobbing” We have to assume this would be more of a non-event if Whole Foods were looking to move in on a more Whole Foods-like rival’s space. But given that the retro Johnnie’s Foodmaster has staked its reputation on, in the Globe‘s words, “low prices, friendly managers, loyal customers, and old-school decor,” and that “low prices” and “old-school” aren’t particularly common words used to describe the Temple of Hand Ground Almond Butter that is Whole Foods, we’re not too surprised that there isn’t strong consensus. Shoppers are going to notice a difference. Interestingly though, Abelson and Ross point out two groups who probably aren’t divided on it: Foodmasters and Whole Foods themselves:

Kevin Griffin, publisher of the Griffin Report of Food Marketing, said Whole Foods could be an attractive out for Johnnie’s Foodmaster because it is usually difficult to exit a family-owned grocery business and get paid for it. The deal makes sense for Whole Foods, he said, because the company is attempting to open smaller markets and defend against rivals.

For the grocers, at least, this sounds like a win-win.

  • MJ

    LOVE Whole Foods! Their 365 brand is reasonable & often better than the national brands. They offer good jobs to their employees, with stock options, health care & the possibility of transferring to other stores if you need/want to move. I don’t get the hostility.

    • Frederick

      In many cases, the media itself feeds this irrational hostility. Playing to populist and false stereotypes which equate factory farmed foods as somehow more ‘honest’ or ‘American’ than their organic, sustainable, or locally-sourced equivalents.

      As was exhaustively and patiently researched during the obscene opposition to WholeFoods in Jamaica Plain, it is easily possible to shop there cheaper and certainly more healthfully than at their convenience store competitors. Buy in bulk, buy store brands, and stay out of the caviar aisle. WF generates much of its profit from the massive margins on HBA — Health & Beauty Aisle, not the food that it sells.

    • Navy Yard Resident

      Whole Foods would be great in Charlestown! …, but I do get the hostility. Just compare the price of a 2-liter Polar Selzer – well under a dollar at Johnnie’s, and way over a dollar at Whole Foods.

      • C’townPearlStreet

        People are just wrong about price differentials. As of 4:00 today, the Charlestown FoodMaster was charging $1.39 plus deposit for a 2 liter bottle of Polar Seltzer. The River Street Whole Foods (which doesn’t carry Polar) sells a 2 liter Adirondack for the same $1.39 plus deposit. This silly “townie vs yuppie” fight is fine if it is the scrap people want to have- we should be clear that the price of seltzer has nothing to do with it, though.

        • kctown

          The foodmaster would be a huge loss to charlestown. I don’t drink seltzer, so I think its a weird thing to price check. How about cereal and wic items? Seltzer aside, there is still a large population that can’t afford even the 365 brands at whole foods. 365 brands when compared with brands at other stores (including johnnies) are still more expensive. ttp://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/moneymag/0706/gallery.whole_foods.moneymag/5.html

          This move would be huge disservice to the neighborhood. If whole foods moves in, I’ll have to go to stop n’shop in medford, which requires a bus. I am one of those people that can’t afford to shop there, I’ve tried.

  • http://comcast Michael De Sandis

    I am 74 years old and on a limited income.

    It will be a strain on my income if Whole Foods buys Johnnie’s.