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Whole Foods 'natural' addition for city

Thursday, October 17, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

Today is opening day for Whole Foods Market. When Mayor Tom Murphy cuts the official loaf of bread at 10 a.m., it will usher in a new era of grocery marketing in Pittsburgh.

Team leader Amy Lejeune arranges some of the 250 types of cheese that will be sold at the Whole Foods Store in East Liberty. The store also features a "cheese aging case." (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

The market is at 5880 Centre Ave. on Penn Circle in East Liberty.

Founded in 1980 as a small store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market now has 133 stores across the country and the District of Columbia. It is the world's largest retailer of "natural" and organic foods.

That's what sets Whole Foods apart. All products sold in the store must be "all-natural" to get in the door, and when possible, they will be organic. Here's what that means to you the consumer.

A definition governs use of the term organic. As of Oct. 21, any food sold as organic in the United States will have to meet criteria set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The National Organic Rule -- the product of 10 years' deliberation by growers, scientists and consumers -- reserves the terms "100 percent organic" and "organic" (at least 95 percent) for foods produced without hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, insecticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification or germ-killing radiation.

There are four levels of organic:

100 percent organic: contains 100 percent certified organic ingredients. Typically a one-ingredient food, such as fruits and vegetables.

Organic: contains 95 percent or more organic ingredients.

Made with organic ingredients: Must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Some organic ingredients: less than 70 percent of the ingredients are organic.

The term "all-natural" is harder to pin down, because no national standard has been developed for "natural" products.

The term is applied broadly to non-organic foods produced without artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, hormones, antibiotics or preservatives and only minimally processed. Unfortunately, the word natural may appear on the label of anything at all, not only foods, at the manufacturer's whim.

One wonders how the Whole Foods management picked Pittsburgh, known more for its intake of pierogies and kielbasa than for good-for-you food.

Whole Foods featured at bookshop LE

Joining Mystery Lovers Bookshop and Cafe in Oakmont in celebrating its 12th birthday on Halloween will be a "special guest" with samples from Whole Foods Market and the Whole Foods Market cookbook, "A Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes" (Clarkson Potter, $12.95) by Steve Petusevsky and the Whole Foods Market team.

The event starts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31. The Halloween celebration also includes a 10-cent book sale benefiting Beginning With Books at 9 p.m. and free cappuccino from 9 p.m. to midnight.


"Pittsburgh is a good food city," says Casey Dill, store team leader (general manager, to you). "It has everything Whole Foods looks for in a location: college town, educated population, great arts scene, many good restaurants, and it is culturally and ethnically diverse. It also needs more food diversity and shopping options."

A mission of the Whole Food stores is to obtain products from all over the world, as well as from small, local and uniquely dedicated food artisans.

"Seasonally, we look forward to working with local farmers in Western Pennsylvania," says Dill, a New Englander whose parents grew up in Fox Chapel.

To start, many Pittsburgh products will be in the store. Artisan breads are supplied by Nick Ambeliotis' MediTerra bakery on the Parkway West. Bagels are made fresh daily at The Bagel Factory in Shadyside. Pierogies Plus makes the local favorites. Coffee is from Coffee Tree, and there's a search for a local supplier of fresh eggs. Umi, one of the restaurants of big Burrito Group, will run the daily sushi program. About 100 local Pittsburghers staff the store.

Loyal Whole Food customers in cities such as Seattle and Chicago have been known to call the store "Whole Paycheck."

"We hear that, but it's not true," says Dill. "You can shop here for groceries you can find in any category in any supermarket. The difference is about quality and standards. Our prices, however, are comparative or better than the local markets."

Let's shop

But enough bragging. Put on your reading glasses, because this store is all about labels. Let's cruise the aisles.

Here are some products you will and won't see. Look for these house brands: 365, Whole Foods and Whole Kids. Instead of Coke and Pepsi, there are spritzy fruit drinks. Instead of Pampers for Baby's bum, you'll find Tushies. What you will not find are the extensive wine and beer selections found in markets outside Pennsylvania.

Many products are shelved in the waxed cardboard containers known as aseptic packages. Tight, air-free containers, they hold sterilized foods that have long shelf lives without the need for preservatives or refrigeration.

Produce -- Bountiful bins of fruits and vegetables are hand-stacked. See multiple varieties of mainstream items such as apples and oranges, but check out the unusual selection of seasonal, exotic and specialty products such as cippolini onions and cactus pears. You can see for yourself what organic produce ought to look and taste like.

Meats -- Select meats in the old butcher shop style, with custom cutting and special orders anytime. The real treat is a refrigerated room with a window through which you can see dry-aging meats, mostly strip and ribeye steaks.

Bakery -- Pastry chef Anthony Zappitielli is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. "There will be a European-style flair to our pastry department," he says. "Look for Italian buttercreams, croissants, fruit danish and special cakes. Rustic-style breads are our signature. We use only unbleached and unbromated flour in our breads. We also have a line of vegan quick breads and individually wrapped cookies and brownies." No, they won't be frying doughnuts.

Pasta -- Muir Glen and Newman's Own are brands that most supermarkets carry. Considered one of the best brands, San Marzano tomatoes are shelved along with the house brands. De Cecco pasta is here, but Annie's Organic dry pastas give it a run for the money. On a top shelf is a line of bread spreads for the baguette you serve with the pasta: look for artichoke, eggplant, roasted pepper and olive spreads.

Soups -- Mori Nu, best known for its tofu products, makes a line of broths and ready-to-eat soups by the quart: garden pea, tomato and butternut squash. When you are cooking Asian, save time with quarts of shiitake broth, traditional miso soup and ginger chicken broth.

Cereals and soy milk -- Yes, you will find Cheerios here, because that's one mainstream cereal that is "all natural." But you'll find house brand honey-frosted flakes, toasted oat bran and puffed cocoa cereal. Pour on West Soy, Rice Dream and other non-dairy beverages. For the lunchbox crowd, there's Horizon brand organic soy chocolate milk in kid-friendly sizes.

Cake mixes, crackers and cookies -- The usual suspects are supplemented with special-needs cake, pancake and scone mixes. Personal experience can vouch for Pamela's brand wheat-free and gluten-free brownie mix -- it makes up into a two-layer cake fit to serve Julia. Wheat Thins are missing, but tons of potato chips, fancy crackers and lavosh make up for it.

Cheese -- A varied and huge selection.

Bulk food and snacks-- Nobody needs 23 kinds of granola, but the tubs are there for the dipping. Many kinds of rice, grains, oats and groats. Organic popcorn and wa-sabi-toasted natural peas are winners at cocktail time.

Bulk water -- Bring your own clean jug or buy one and get a fill-up from the water machine for 39 cents a gallon. Choose from a water that has been purified by reverse osmosis or a de-ionized water.

Whole body shop -- For your outside, there are lotions and potions to rub in and pat on, such as Burt's Bees Body Lotion and Tom's of Maine toothpaste. For your inside, there are vitamins, supplements and helpers.

Pets -- Remember Fluffy and Fido with "all-natural foods" and fur products.

Wash up -- When you're done cooking and baking, clean up with Earth-friendly products. CitraSolve all-purpose cleaner and degreaser is similar to Formula 409, while 365 paper towels are made from 100 percent recycled paper.

Prepared foods -- Bronzed rotisserie chickens are fancy Bell and Evans brand cluckers. The salad bar has 50 ways to love your diet. Besides roasted vegetables, marinated salads and baked entrees, ethnic menus will change weekly. A Thai, Indian or French menu might feature an entree and four ethnic side dishes. Hungry? Select barbecued baby-back ribs, roasted beets and curried wheatberries, then pay and head for a booth in the cafe to eat.

Sampling the store -- Don't get piggy, but shoppers can sample anything in the store. "Most shoppers bring a list," Dill says. "We want them to try new things, foods they may be curious about, but are shy about buying. We'll send them home with a sample from the shelves." There will also be full sample stations throughout the store.

Whole Foods Market is located at 5880 Centre Avenue at Penn Circle, East Liberty. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For tours of the store, contact Kim Wynnyckyj, better known as "Kim-in-Marketing." Call her at 412-441-7960. In the future, look for cooking classes and demonstrations.

Baked Apples with Maple-Walnut Crust

  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

  • 2 teaspoons nutty rice cereal (or granola)
  • 1/4 cup maple sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 large baking apples, such as Braeburn or Rome (1 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup apple juice

Set oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, combine walnuts, cereal, maple sugar and cinnamon; process until nuts and cereal are finely ground. Set aside.

Pour water and lemon juice into a bowl. Peel, halve and core apples, dropping them in the acidulated water as you work. Lift out one apple half, shaking off excess water. Brush with butter and press a generous coating of the walnut mixture over the rounded side. Set in a 10-inch pie plate. Repeat with the remaining apples and sprinkle any remaining walnut mixture over the top.

Pour apple juice around apples and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Serve warm, spooning juices around each apple. Makes 6 servings.

"Whole Foods Market Cookbook"

Marlene Parrish is a Mount Washington food writer.

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