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Amazon is rapidly opening new Whole Foods stores after halting Amazon Fresh’s expansion, in a troubling sign for online grocery sales

A brown-and-green paper bag of Whole Foods groceries sits in a cart outside a store in Jackson, Mississippi.Whole Foods has about 500 stores now, but CEO Jason Buechel wants to roughly triple the number of new store openings per year.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

  • Whole Foods wants to triple the number of stores it opens, CEO Jason Buechel said Monday.
  • The Amazon-owned grocer wants to open 30 new stores a year, up from 11 in 2022.
  • Buechel’s goal contrasts with Amazon Fresh, which has reportedly paused new store openings.

Whole Foods’ CEO wants to roughly triple the number of new stores that the grocer opens each year, even as parent company Amazon has paused expansion of its other store formats or closed locations.

Last year, Whole Foods opened 11 stores, according to industry publication Winsight Grocery Business. But the chain wants to find and open new locations even faster, CEO Jason Buechel said at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York on Monday.

“Ultimately, we want to be opening 30 or more stores a year,” Buechel said according to Winsight. “For us, it’s the ability to serve more customers.”

Buechel also said that Whole Foods is looking at new store formats, including “new ways that we can serve customers” with new store sizes and shapes. “I can’t share a lot today, but we’ve got a couple of examples that we’ve already done,” Buechel said. He pointed to the chain’s “Ideal Market Denver,” a Colorado store where Whole Foods is offering more organic products as well as additional sustainable offerings, such as bottled water that doesn’t rely on single-use plastic containers.

Whole Foods’ goal of opening more stores comes as consumers resume visiting stores and turn away from grocery delivery services, which gained popularity during the early months of the pandemic. Grocery delivery sales fell 1.8% in December, even as sales through pick-up orders rose, according to a survey from consultancy Brick Meets Click and research firm Mercatus.

The faster pace of openings and experimentation with new formats also contrasts with other Amazon-owned store chains. Last March, Amazon said it would close 68 stores, including all of its Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star locations. 

Amazon has also reportedly paused new store openings for its Amazon Fresh grocery chain, The Information reported in December. Last year, Whole Foods closed six stores around the country. 

Amazon recently said that it plans to lay off about 18,000 workers, with employees in charge of Amazon’s physical stores expected to be among the hardest-hit.

But Buechel painted an optimistic picture for Whole Foods’ store footprint at the NRF event. He said that Whole Foods currently has 50 new stores in various stages of development, but added that he hopes to double that number over time. 

“We are so bullish on our potential to continue to add stores,” Buechel said according to Winsight. Whole Foods has 534 stores around the world, according to the company.

Whole Foods’ plans include entering new markets and building up its presence in existing ones. 

Among Whole Foods’ latest new store openings is its first store in Montana, Buechel said at the NRF show. The store, in Bozeman, will mark Whole Foods’ entry into its 44th state. 

It also opened a location in New York City’s financial district on January 11. The store features art deco design as well as a wide array of products local to New York, Whole Foods said of the opening. Shoppers can also stop by the meat counter to see the store’s butcher at work.

“We’ve talked about the theater of retail,” Buechel said. “For us, this is like a flagship experience.”

Read the original article on Business Insider