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Whole Foods sees food deserts as fertile growth opportunity

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The natural foods supermarket chain plans to triple its locations. Underserved urban markets and small cities will be a big part of the strategy.

The biggest seller of natural foods in America is planning to triple its store count by focusing on so-called deserts in under-served cities and smaller markets with populations about about 75,000.

The strategy is being pioneered in the company's Detroit store, which is set to open in May, and it marks a big departure for Whole Foods, reports Bloomberg. "We're accelerating growth," Walter Robb, the chain's co-chief executive, told the news service. "That's going to take us places we have not been to before."

The market selections are anything but random: the Detroit location, for example, is near Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies. The company typically sites its stores where the residents are more highly educated than the average population. This is a twist on that strategy.

Apparently, Whole Foods has also been talking to the mayor of Newark and Chicago about possible locations that are underserved by grocery stores. It has already opened operations in smaller markets than usual, such as Glen Mills, Pa., and West Des Moines, Iowa.

These stores have a smaller format than the big ones in more populated areas, which means a smaller selection. But the focus is still on fresh, organice and healthy food choices.

If you think about it, Whole Foods is actually returning to its roots with this strategy. Its first store in Austin, Texas (pictured) had just 19 employees.

[via Bloomberg]

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure