Whole Foods, Nation's Biggest Organic and Natural Food Seller, to Enter Milwaukee Market

The nation's largest seller of organic and natural foods will open a Milwaukee supermarket, launching a powerful niche player into the area's grocery business, and creating a new retail anchor for an east side neighborhood.

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — The nation's largest seller of organic and natural foods will open a Milwaukee supermarket, launching a powerful niche player into the area's grocery business, and creating a new retail anchor for an east side neighborhood.

Whole Foods Market Inc. plans to open the store at the northwest corner of E. North and N. Prospect avenues by November 2006. The Austin, Texas, supermarket chain operates just one Wisconsin store, in Madison.

Whole Foods supermarkets include in-store bakeries that feature French baguettes, Italian-style focaccias and other European breads; fresh meat and poultry that is free of hormones and antibiotics; produce that includes pesticide-free mainstream items, like apples, along with exotic specialty produce, such as cippolini onions and cactus pears; fresh seafood; and natural body care items, including soap and skin lotions.

The stores also have non-perishable natural foods, such as soda, cereal, and macaroni and cheese, said David Rosenberg, Midwest marketing director for Whole Foods.

The Milwaukee store, with around 200 employees, will be on the first floor of Prospect Medical Commons, a medical office building being developed by Columbia St. Mary's Inc. health care organization. Whole Foods is leasing 54,000 square feet, while the four upper stories, totaling 96,000 square feet, will be offices for about 70 doctors, said Leo Brideau, Columbia St. Mary's president and CEO.

Construction of Prospect Medical Commons on a 2-acre site once occupied largely by Heiser Ford will begin in June.

The medical office building is expected to open in January 2007. The development will include a parking structure with 307 spaces for patients and 160 spaces for Whole Foods customers. Those spaces also will be available after hours to people visiting nearby restaurants, taverns and other businesses.

Prospect Medical Commons will be part of Columbia St. Mary's overall expansion and redevelopment of its Lake Drive campus. Complete plans for the campus will be announced this summer, with a groundbreaking scheduled for fall. The campus project will be completed in 2010.

Brideau said it's fitting that the medical office building's retail tenant will be a supermarket that sells healthy food.

"It's a good match for us," Brideau said.

The east side is an ideal location for Whole Foods, said company spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins. Whole Foods targets college-educated consumers, she said, and the store will be within one mile of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's main campus.

The store also will be just a little bit north of UWM's 500,000-square-foot Kenilworth building, which is between Farwell and Prospect avenues at E. Kenilworth Place. The six-story building, now used mainly for storage and university support services, is being redeveloped into student housing, classrooms and retail space.

It is to be completed by the beginning of UWM's 2006-'07 academic year.

The $68 million Kenilworth project and other developments pending in the neighborhood helped draw Whole Foods to the former Heiser site, Rosenberg said.

The new supermarket and the medical offices will "have positive ripple effects throughout the neighborhood and Milwaukee's east side," said a statement issued by Jim Plaisted, executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District.

Whole Foods will serve as another daytime destination for a neighborhood now known mainly for its vibrant nightlife, said Mayor Tom Barrett, in a statement.

The store's specialty products are expected to draw shoppers from beyond the east side. "People who want to shop at Whole Foods will go out of their way to shop there," said Peter Gertler, a supermarket industry consultant.

Whole Foods will likely draw customers who now shop at Outpost Natural Foods, 100 E. Capitol Drive, as well as conventional supermarkets, such as Pick 'n Save, that sell a limited number of organic and natural items, said Gertler, who operates RV Consulting LLC, a San Francisco firm.

Whole Foods, which has annual sales of $3.9 billion and 168 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, has successfully tapped into a growing demand for foods that are perceived as healthier, Gertler said.

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