Whole Foods Market has begun taking applications for its Local and Emerging Accelerator Program, designed to mentor local food brands.
The program, which kicks off Tuesday (March 1), offers mentorships from the company’s exports, education for small and emerging producers and the possibility of financial support. In addition, select producers will see their products placed on the shelves of their hometown’s Whole Foods stores, the Amazon-owned company said on its website.
“Since we opened our first store, we have been on the lookout for small, local and emerging producers with products that our customers will love,” said Will Betts, vice president of local merchandising at Whole Foods Market. “Over the years, we’ve helped many of these producers find their footing and grow their businesses, and we are thrilled to formalize this assistance with our Local and Emerging Acceleration Program.”
Betts added that the first cohort will include 10 local producers. Last year, Whole Foods says, it added 500 new local brands to its list of suppliers and 6,500 new local items to shelves.
Producers have until April 8 to apply for the program. The company will announce its picks in late summer. From there, the successful applicants will take part in a 10-week curriculum taught by Whole Foods Market experts, spend a year under the mentorship of a “local forager” and get access to “other growth-related supplier benefits,” the company said.
All products must meet Whole Foods quality and safety standards before appearing in stores. Suppliers who complete the program get a chance to receive a $25,000 equity investment from a donor-advised fund overseen by the Austin Community Foundation.
Last week, Whole Foods opened its first “Just Walk Out” store in Washington, D.C., with plans to launch another one later this year in Sherman Oaks, California.
The cashierless technology store lets consumers scan an in-app code or their payment card at the entrance, bag items as they move through the aisles, and scan out when they leave, with their purchases charged to their accounts automatically.
Amazon has said it also wants to extend this frictionless checkout technology into suburban markets through its Amazon Go convenience stores.