How's this for a strategically placed billboard? Erewhon Natural Foods Market has put up a double-sided display on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, across the street from a bustling Whole Foods Market. The ad announces that a new Erewhon is "coming soon" to Calabasas.
The prominent sign seeks to grab the attention of west San Fernando Valley customers who make regular pilgrimages, not only to Whole Foods, but also to nearby Trader Joe's and Sprouts, sometimes all in one shopping trip.
What's striking is that the under-construction Erewhon store, scheduled to open in March, is not near the sign - it's seven miles west in The Summit at Calabasas shopping center, at the intersection of Lost Hills and Agoura roads. Clearly, the company is counting on customers' willingness to make the store a destination.
"We have people driving from the Valley to our L.A. store. We believe over the years we will build a substantial customer base," owner Tony Antoci told Squid Ink, acknowledging that some shoppers consider Erewhon kind of pricey: "It is definitely for people who really understand health and are willing to pay."
And about that billboard, no question it has a target audience. Observed Antoci: "The people who go to Whole Foods get the purpose of healthy, organic food. They realize they're paying more for that kind of food. We've taken it to another level. Sixty per cent of the produce at Whole Foods is conventional. All of the produce we sell is one hundred per cent organic."
Asked to comment, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson told us in an email: "I'm not sure where Erewhon received that information. We don't claim to have a specific percentage of organic vs. conventional products in each store simply because the percentage of organic produce varies according to the season, availability of local products, the size of the store, and the needs of the community. As a company, we offer more organic choices than any other national retailer, and the variety of our organic choices is unmatched - from fair trade imported goods to local products grown just miles from our stores. While organic is an important choice, we also prioritize local produce. We want to support growers in our home communities and our shoppers are asking for more local choices. In short, we offer a wide mix of options."
Erewhon began in Boston in 1966 as a small macrobiotic store. In 1968 the business set up shop in Los Angeles. Antoci, who previously worked in food distribution, and his wife, Josephine, purchased the company in 2011. He said that over the next ten years, they plan to open five more area stores.
"Bringing healthy organic foods to many different communities in and around Los Angeles County is our goal," said Antoci. "It's a huge investment to open these stores. There are very few independent grocers in Los Angeles."
Like the original store, the new location will have a tonic and juice bar, a café, prepared hot foods, rotisserie chicken, a deli, salad bar and a range of macrobiotic, vegan, raw, gluten-free and kosher items. The Calabasas store also will have an organic pizza bar, selling whole pies and slices. Most merchandise reflects the company's support of the Non-GMO Project.
The store's name comes from a satiric novel about a utopian community, published anonymously by Samuel Butler in 1872. Antoci explained: "Erewhon is 'nowhere' backwards but for some crazy reason they flipped the H and the W and nobody can explain that to me."
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The Calabasas Erewhon is taking over the 16,250-square-foot space previously occupied by Maddy's Market, which closed last March after a challenging three-year run. Erewhon had originally planned to open the new store in the Trancas Country Market center in Malibu, but pulled out of the lease after construction delays. (Vintage Grocers, a new independent market, is moving into the vacant space.)
After Erewhon changed plans, a group of Malibu residents asked Trader Joe's to open a store in their community. While the affluent city has great views and movie stars, apparently a Trader Joe's is not in the cards anytime soon. As reported in The Malibu Times, for now the company doesn't consider Malibu a desirable location.