Health food seller seeks shop for steady diet of PR

AUSTIN, TX: David Smith, the new vice president of marketing at Whole Foods Market, is poised to kick off a search for an outside PR firm for the chain of natural food stores.

AUSTIN, TX: David Smith, the new vice president of marketing at Whole Foods Market, is poised to kick off a search for an outside PR firm for the chain of natural food stores.

AUSTIN, TX: David Smith, the new vice president of marketing at Whole Foods Market, is poised to kick off a search for an outside PR firm for the chain of natural food stores.

Smith called public relations 'an untapped opportunity' for Whole Foods, which operates 117 stores in 22 states and to date has relied mainly on local marketing efforts.

'We need to marshal ideas of brand identity and positioning,' he said of his hopes for the role of PR. He would not speculate on budget numbers.

In addition, Smith plans to create an in-house PR department, starting with one-and-a-half positions, explaining, 'The in-house operation will provide direction to the outside agency that is eventually hired.

Whole Foods has used outside PR help in the past on a regional basis across its seven operating areas. The difference this time around is that Smith expects to take on an agency for the entire chain in an effort to build brand identity and support planned expansion.

The company, which boasts dollars 2 billion in annual sales, has announced its intention to open in Toronto and has said it plans to open or acquire 15 to 20 stores next year. It also has predicted that its fiscal 2001 same-store sales will rise 7-9%.

Smith, who recently joined Austin-based Whole Foods from a hi-tech company in California, has a consumer-goods marketing background from working at companies such as McDonald's. His college degree is in environmental science and he felt the Whole Foods position would help him utilize his consumer background as well as his knowledge of environmental issues.

Whole Foods is probably the best known health food chain in the United States, but it faces a major marketing challenge in expanding its consumer base beyond hard-core organic food enthusiasts.

The company also faces increased competition from mainstream supermarket chains that have started carrying a greater selection of natural food to appeal to shoppers interested in such products.



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