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First Whole Foods Market in County Opens in Metuchen

In-Store, Fast Casual Tex-Mex Bar & Restaurant to Serve "Jersey Beers"
Whole Foods Metuchen
The back and side of the new Whole Foods in Metuchen is seen here on Sept. 14. Ilya Arbit

METUCHEN, NJ–Middlesex County’s first Whole Foods Market will open at 645 Middlesex Avenue in Metuchen on October 11.

As the 18th Whole Foods in New Jersey, the operation is expected to create some 160 local jobs, according to the grocer, which will include a fast casual Tex-Mex restaurant.

The outpost has been slated to open for more than two years, well before the epic news came in June that Amazon.com Inc. agreed to buy the natural foods grocer for $13.7 billion.

The Whole Foods purchase was Amazon’s largest ever, and “speculation continues to percolate on the implications of the recently-completed” deal, writes consultant and author Hermann Simon in Harvard Business Review.

Is Metuchen one of the “attractive neighborhoods,” that Amazon hopes to “gain instant access to [with a] brick-and-mortar [outlet]” in the borough?

Simon said in the report that Amazon views Whole Foods as a “pricing lab” and will use the 456 quaint stores as “testing facilities” where some eight million “volunteers” shop every week.

“Amazon’s relentless price testing in the online world anchors its competitive advantage,” stated Simon, who said Amazon is able to leverage price as a tool – even a “psychological weapon, and value driver.”

Price “transcend[s] supply and demand and profit and loss,” at times, writes the consultant. “Now Amazon can supplement that knowledge with direct, proprietary insights about the offline retail world.”

Will the Metuchen market dovetail with Amazon’s long range plan following the summer's biggest takeover? Only time will tell.

“We look forward to providing great deals, industry-leading quality standards for natural and organic foods and exciting new innovations, said Metuchen store team leader, Felicia Williams.

Special sales, product demonstrations, free samples, and premiums will kick-off the October 11 grand opening, said Whole Foods.

Every item sold in the outpost meets the company's “rigorous quality standards,” said Whole Foods, meaning that no high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners are ever used.

In a release, Whole Foods cited in-store "butchers and fishmongers" who will routinely custom-cut and prep various ingredients for patrons.

In addition to sporting a full bar, “Comida Fresca,” the in-store Mexican cantina with both indoor and outdoor seating, will serve a full menu of nifty drinks, appetizers, and entrees, and use the same high quality natural and organic ingredients in everything it makes and serves, as well.

Generally, customers will order at the counter and their food will be brought out to them, said Ted Kwong, Whole Foods Market's Northeast Regional PR Coordinator, adding that several New Jersey beers will be available on tap, along with various margaritas made with fresh citrus.

Guacamoles and tacos are expected to be popular items as well.

Though the cantina will serve some Jersey craft beers such as those from Wet Ticket Brewing in Rahway, not all the taps will serve local beers. A dozen draft beers will be available in total, Kwong said.

And as Amazon noodles with every part of the supply chain, the new business may come to represent more than just a specialty store with a restaurant and bar inside.

The market's parent company has "shown signs of using its growing number of book shops, university stores and grocery kiosks to solve the tricky and expensive problem of delivering packages," writes Shira Ovide and Sarah Halzack in a Bloomberg Gadfly report.

“Whole Foods is now part of the strategy, too,” added the authors.

“Amazon's physical expansion shows how much the company needs to change to take on its next challenges. The future shopping categories Amazon hopes to dominate -- groceries, clothing, appliances and more -- will require a mix of physical stores and online shopping and hybrids of the two.”

In Metuchen, there's also a large parking lot with two electric charging stations at the site.

Could Hub City have also been the destination that Whole Foods is betting Metuchen will become? And would it have matched the borough in terms of its ability to draw shoppers to enjoy that positive in-store experience Whole Foods hopes to deliver at its market in Metuchen?

Asked if Whole Foods considered opening shop in New Brunswick, a company spokesperson said, "Our real estate teams are always considering opportunities around [New Jersey],” but declined to name other sites that may have been considered.

"Just because we open a store in one location, doesn’t mean we won’t continue to grow in a given area," said the spokesperson.

He said new store build-outs usually take 9 to 12 months and correctly predicted the Metuchen store, which was built from the ground-up.

The market's lease sets forth a myriad of stipulations and restrictions agreed to by Whole Foods Market Group, Inc and both of the site's landlords: The District of Metuchen LLC and Bluestone 31st Street, LLC.

All parties signed the initial, two-decade lease, which includes restrictions on what types of stores can be in an adjacent development.

The list of establishments that are not allowed in “Building D,” or any portion of the development, which includes several thousand square feet of retail space apparently to be occupied by neighboring businesses, is much longer than the type of shop that Whole Foods does allow: a Petco (or its equivalent).

These operations are not allowed:

  • fast food or quick serve restaurant
  • bar or cocktail lounge, unless part of a full service restaurant otherwise permitted hereunder
  • health club more than 3,000 gross square feet
  • salon (or other business in excess of 2,400 gross square feet that provides hair treatments, manicures, facials, massages or similar services
  • restaurant that is primarily a salad bar
  • delicatessen that sells meat or cheese by the pound for off premises consumption
  • coffee store
  • juice and/or smoothie bar
  • Veggie Grill
  • hardware store
  • Nordstrom Rack, T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s
  • CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreen’s

The nearly 45,000 square foot store anchors a retail development, at least two years in the making, known as “The District of Metuchen Shopping Center,” according to a 2016 “Memorandum of Lease” obtained by New Brunswick Today. 

In 2014, a 40,000 square foot Whole Foods Market opened on Route 9 in Marlboro.

It sports a gluten free pasta bar, next to the deli. While the prepared foods department offers fewer salads and entrees than many older stores, the team at the store has said the plan was to condense the deli and corresponding display to allow space for other items like homemade pizza.

The kitchen features a glass wall so that customers can fully view team members preparing food. Just inside the main entrance, next to customer service, is a juice bar which also serves coffee and tea.

Next door to the Whole Foods in Marlboro Commons there is a Petco Animal Supplies shop.