If Giant Eagle Market District is the Mecca for your foodiest of food nerds, then Whole Foods is the Holy Grail for clean, sustainable eating food gurus.
On Wednesday, May 2, Whole Foods will celebrate the grand opening of its Wexford, PA, store, a spacious, well designed, 34,000 square foot food destination. It is the 41st mid-Atlantic region store for the brand and the second in the Pittsburgh area. If you can make it for the 9:45 am ceremony, you’ll be in for a special treat—the brand’s tradition is to cut a 4.5-foot loaf of challah bread in lieu of a standard ribbon.
I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek* at the new store today, taken from department to department by enthusiastic, passionate employees. It was evident that the staff knows their stuff and was excited to share that knowledge with us. Here’s a general overview of what you can expect starting May 2.
Dedication to Sustainability
Even before you enter the store—from the moment you park your car, even—it’s clear that Whole Foods is highly dedicated to sustainability. Several parking spots sported charging stations for electric vehicles. It was unclear if the parking spots would be limited to only electric vehicles, but for now before the store opened, it seemed that any car could park there.
Produce and Floral
The highlight in this department is Whole Foods’ “Whole Trade” guarantee, a classification that starts with Fair Trade standards but takes them a step further, adding an environmental component. At the new Wexford store, you’ll find fruits like bananas, pineapple, mango, and melons with the Whole Trade label.
Certain flowers also hold the Whole Trade guarantee, including roses, gerbera daisies, and mixed bouquets. An added distinction is that the bouquets are actually signed by the person who produced them according to those standards.
Whole Foods strives to feature organic produce first and foremost, followed by local selections (defined as within a 200-mile radius of the area). When neither is available for a particular item, such as for out-of-season produce, the store will stock a clearly marked conventional version, with the goal of getting the local or organic version back on the shelves as soon as possible.
If you stop by the store this week, be sure to check out the cherries—the Whole Foods Wexford store is the first store east of the Mississippi to offer them this season.
So far, only three Whole Foods stores feature this L-shaped, expanded bulk foods area. If you thought the bulk foods selection at the East Liberty Whole Foods, or even the Robinson Market District, was good, you’ll be blown away by the choices here. Olive oils, specialty salts, spices, gourmet popcorn, dried pastas, nuts, grind-your-own nut butters, dried mushrooms, dried grains, and even sprouted grains—the list goes on and on. There are even 36 varieties of dried beans! I may be a little weird, but this was one of my favorite departments in the store. There’s nothing like a well-stocked pantry, in my opinion.
All of the seafood Whole Foods sells is Blue Ocean Institute certified for sustainability. Earlier this year, the market stopped carrying fish with a red rating, and the company continues to work toward making available only the most sustainable and healthy fish possible. In the Wexford store, a special bin contains seafood value packages. Because there are no fancy labels, the value packages are less expensive but still BOI certified.
Butchers at the Wexford store cut all meat in house, and all meat adheres to at least one of the five-step animal welfare rating standards. The staff explained that the store stocks step five chicken and some step four meats.
Like in the East Liberty store, the Wexford store dry ages its steaks for 14-35 days in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment to concentrate and intensify the flavors.
If you’re looking for a quick lunch or dinner, this department is for you. Self-serve counters feature hot soups and a rare, fully organic salad bar. Step over to the counters staffed by Whole Foods chefs, and get sandwiches made to order or Neapolitan, Roman, or New York pizza, cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven that was designed and manufactured in Naples, Italy.
Specialty Foods and Bakery
Cheeses, chocolates, coffee, bread, fresh pasta, and baked goods—if you have a vice, chances are it can be satisfied here. Like in other areas of the store, the focus is on local, organic ingredients, with coffees from local roasters like La Prima and Prestogeorge, fresh pastas and pierogies from Philadelphia, and organic breads made in-store. Exclusive to the Wexford store is the Steel City Ketchup Cake, an organic, house-made spice cake that uses Heinz ketchup.
I have to admit that going into the tour, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although the East Liberty Whole Foods is a great resource for healthy, specialty foods, it can feel crowded and overwhelming on a busy Saturday. But even though the Wexford store didn’t have the same crowd levels because it wasn’t yet open to the public, I could still see it as a much more enjoyable place to shop even on the busy days—light, airy, open, and chock full of good eats. This visit was the first of many for me.
*Disclaimer: I attended this preview event as invited media.