ENGLEWOOD — South Siders had the opportunity to pitch their products to Whole Foods representatives in Englewood over the weekend.
More than 60 small-business owners attended the Whole Foods Market Midwest Small Business Outreach event at Hamilton Park, 513 W. 72nd St., Saturday. Interested suppliers had the opportunity to learn about the store’s standards and supplier process. They met individually with buyers to discuss their products. Also on site were local companies specializing in financing, insurance and packaging to answer questions many entrepreneurs in the food industry encounter.
Mark Walker hopes to get his flavored iced teas, more commonly called sweet teas, into the new Englewood Whole Foods Market. The Chatham resident’s South Side business, “Ooohwee Sweet Tea,” features 17 flavors of tea. He said what makes his beverages unique and Whole Foods-worthy is that they’re made with honey with no sugar added.
He said he believes he has a good chance of getting his product in the store.
“They have been very receptive already,” Walker said Saturday after his meeting. “They told me they had no one present a beverage to them. That’s a good look.”
Walker said the main reason he wants to expand his business is to employ more people.
“The more shelves we’re on, the more people we need to produce the tea, and that’s what I’m really excited about," Walker said.
Another potential supplier for Whole Foods, Joseph Brown Lee, wants to see his health bars in the store. The Roseland resident pitched his “Fantasy Bar,” which he said is made with whole wheat flour, coconut, oatmeal and a combination of chocolate and caramel.
“The ingredients go together well, and people love it,” he said.
Lee already has a booming catering business, Alma’s, which specializes in such grilled fare as chicken wings, turkey ribs and other comfort foods, as he calls them. He’s known for his glazed biscuits, he said. He started the business five years ago after getting positive feedback from friends and family.
“I used to cook for parties,” he said. “People loved it so much, and they started giving me tips.”
He plans to keep the catering business going, but he created the healthy dessertlike bar because he wanted to try something different, he said.
Lee said he appreciates Whole Foods giving people like himself a chance to pitch their products.
“I think it’s awesome they’re giving somebody a chance who’s really serious about what they’re doing,” he said.
Julie Blubaugh, Midwest local forager for Whole Foods, sets up meetings with potential suppliers and helps them get to the next step.
“The last time we did a big event like this was last January , so it has been over a year,” she said.
Events like these that involve the community are important, she added.
“We know there are a lot of local suppliers who maybe haven’t approached us yet, so whenever we open a new store we get out there and try to find the people who haven’t taken a meeting, or they don’t know how to take meetings with Whole Foods,” Blubaugh said.
There won’t be another large fair like this one, she said, but people still can contact Whole Foods to set up meetings.
“We want to meet more people,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process, and it happens after the store opens too.”
Interested business owners can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email goes to anyone on the local team who reviews products. People can specify in the email if they have a store preference. The two South Side neighborhoods the chain is coming to are Englewood and Hyde Park.
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