As president of the Florida region for Whole Foods Market since 1998, Juan Nuñez has helped grow the company’s presence in the state from three stores to 19, with a 20th store opening this fall in Tallahassee and several others under development.
Nuñez, a native of Tocopilla, Chile, moved to northern Minnesota with his family as a child. After completing his studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he relocated to the Los Angeles area in 1982, where he began his career in the natural and organic foods industry.
Here are some questions and answers with Nunez about his career and Whole Foods’ growth statewide:
Q. Please tell me about the path you took to rise to your current position.
In 1982, I started as a grocery clerk for Mrs. Gooch’s in Hermosa Beach, Calif., stocking shelves, receiving product, helping customers, etc. Mrs. Gooch’s was a natural and organic food market with three stores in Southern California. Eventually, we grew to eight stores, where I held the positions of team leader, associate store team leader, store team leader, and eventually, regional store operations director.
Mrs. Gooch’s merged with Whole Foods Market in 1993. I relocated to Austin, Texas, in 1996 as vice president of the Southwest Region for Whole Foods Market, and moved to Florida in 1998 as president of the Florida region.
Q. How many Whole Foods stores are there in total, as well as in Florida, and in South Florida? What other operations do you have in the state?
Currently, Whole Foods Market has 357 stores across North America and the United Kingdom. The Florida region has 19 stores with regional offices in Fort Lauderdale, a distribution center in Pompano Beach and a bakehouse in Plantation. We will open our 20th store in the state on Oct. 9, in Tallahassee.
Q. You recently opened a new store in North Miami. Please tell me about that store. Is there a standard design and format for all stores? Do all the stores carry the same products?
We are very proud of our newest store on Biscayne Boulevard just south of 123rd, as the store features many design and product innovations. The 36,000 square-foot store is a standalone building and is built from the ground up. Like all of our locations, North Miami features original designs and we tried to incorporate the community into the look and feel of the store. Our focus here was the MiMo (Miami Modern) influence in the area to honor the proud history of North Miami.
We carry an extensive selection of organic foods and unique items not found in most markets. And while all of our stores carry a core set of products that meet our high quality standards, such as out 365 Organic private label items, we also go out of our way to seek out and feature local products from Florida producers.
Most importantly, all our stores have the freedom to discover and carry items from their community or items requested by our customers. These products must meet our standards; however, you may find an item in one of our stores that is not carried by any other of our stores, as items can come from the community.
Q. I understand you have plans to relocate your Plantation store to Davie. Please tell me why and tell me about the new store, how you plan to deal with traffic, and when it is expected to open.
Our current Plantation store is 29,000 square feet. Our new store will be approximately 42,000 square feet and will feature our latest innovations, many more products and venues that we have not offered in Broward County before. The new store will be .4 of a mile south on University Drive in the vacant Kmart. This location has much more parking, has extremely improved visibility from University Drive, and has a stop light at the entrance of our parking lot. The added traffic will flow well in this great new site and our customers who have been loyal shoppers for all these years will be able to enjoy the newest Whole Foods Market in Broward when it opens late in 2014.
Q. You also have a store under construction in downtown Miami. Please tell me about that and when it is expected to open.
We are very excited about our downtown Miami store located at 200 S. E. 2nd St. This will be an urban-style store, approximately 40,000 square feet, featuring many quick-to-go venues, a churrascaria and ample seating for shoppers to dine in. There will be dedicated customer parking below the store and seven levels of public parking above our store. There will also be a 41-story development — either hotel or apartments — on the site. Our community focus will provide a very diverse selection of products and services that our downtown customers will expect. This store has been in development for several years and we expect it to open late in 2014.
Q. Are there any other South Florida stores undergoing renovation? Do you have other new stores planned to open in Florida and in South Florida? How about in Midtown Miami?
We are continually investing and improving all our stores. Currently, we have a major renovation underway in our Fort Lauderdale store. Product selection has increased and we have added new venues and new food bars. The interior décor will be redone and improvements are happening to the exterior of the store as well. Our stores in Pinecrest, Coral Gables, South Beach and Boca Raton will also have significant improvements over the next few months.
Part of what I do is search for sites for new stores. We look aggressively in the entire state, including the Miami area, which is very attractive. Midtown Miami is an area of interest, however, we have no immediate plans for a store there.
As for new stores around the state, overall, we’re working on opening stores in Tallahassee, Pompano Beach, Miami, West Palm Beach, Altamonte Springs, Davie and Clearwater. There are more locations we’re looking at and will hopefully be able to announce soon.
Q. What kinds of special events and marketing programs are underway at your South Florida stores?
Each store has a marketing team leader focused on community involvement and outreach. They work with schools and various organizations in their community and offer donations, healthy-eating education and healthy-shopping tours in our stores. Many local charities also benefit from our 5 percent days. This is where once a quarter, we donate 5 percent of our net sales from a selected day. Each store selects their own local charities, and the groups join us on these days to educate our customers about their cause.
There are so many things going on in our stores, like wine dinners in Pembroke Pines or Blues nights in Coral Springs, that the best way to get a comprehensive list is to follow each store’s own webpage at www.wholefoodsmarket.com or individual Facebook page.
Q. What other community efforts make Whole Foods different from other supermarket chains?
We go out of our way to be an active member of the communities around our stores. In addition to the many partnerships and sponsorships we engage in throughout the state, we work closely with local schools to provide healthy eating education to students and staff, to provide financial grants to build school gardens, and to provide salad bars for lunchrooms.
We provide low interest loans to Florida producers to enhance their business through our Local Producer Loan Program. As a company, we’ve dedicated $10 million dollars to fund these loans, and Florida was the first region to offer one to a local honey producer in Palm Beach County; Buzzin’ Bee.
For our global community, we work to eliminate poverty through our Whole Planet Foundation. This foundation provides micro loans to woman in 60 different countries around the world to start or expand their own businesses. Our Whole Kids Foundation works with schools to improve nutritional education and healthy food options for students and faculty. They also support our regional efforts in supporting schools. And our new Whole Cities Foundation will build stores in those areas where fresh healthy foods are not accessible.