WILD OATS MARKETPLACE ORGANIC
Wild Oats opened its first retail store in 1987 in Boulder, Colorado, and was always true to its core health and wellness constituents with some of the toughest requirements for products to get into its stores. In the middle of 2006 this positioning made it difficult to compete with Whole Foods Market who had much larger stores, chocolate towers and a more adventurous assortment of “foodie” orientated food. Wild Oats was impacted by not addressing this new “foodie” shopper, leading Whole Foods Market to make the strategic move to acquire Wild Oats in 2007, effectively removing Wild Oats as a competitor in the natural foods market. When the Federal Trade Commission got involved in challenging that transaction, it made me think that perhaps there was hope for the Wild Oats brand as a strong core-value-based health and wellness product company leading with organic food. I thought, what if we could bring these products to the masses with prices that where a minimum of 25 percent less than any other organic brand including Whole Foods Market’s very own products? So I, along with a partner Tim Luberski, petitioned for the brand and ended up acquiring it.
After a five-year rollercoaster ride trying to get the Wild Oats brand from Whole Foods Market. Wild Oats was re-launched in Walmart with Organic Pantry items that were 25 to 40 percent less than any other organic products and priced at the same price as the conventional brand leader. The new positioning was affordable, accessible and authentic, and in April of 2014 Wild Oats became the single largest product launch in Walmart’s history on the same level as national brands for less, $4 prescriptions.
To achieve this we brought in a talented management team to lead the Wild Oats initiative. The first person we brought in was Jim Keyes, the former CEO of 7-Eleven, who was ending his term with Blockbuster and had the perfect expertise to build a brand. I stalked him for months before I actually got him to agree to meet with Walmart. Keyes brought food industry expertise and small-format store expertise to the project. As it happened, the private equity firm we where working with to fund the project, Yucaipa, knew Keyes, and the world’s largest retailer, Walmart had confidence in him and Yucaipa. This made Walmart very interested in supporting the “Democratizing Organic” initiative.
The journey that resulted in a partnership between these groups was incredible, and the results undeniable. Wild Oats Marketplace Organic become one of the most successful product launches in Walmart’s history with sales of $2 million per week during the first nine months. Walmart was able to lower organic prices by 25 percent across all stores, making, organic product prices on par with conventional foods. As a result other organic products are now selling in conventional grocery stores that have never traditionally carried organic products and because of supply chain efficiencies organic food is becoming affordable.