Whole Foods wants to be more than your favorite place to grab a high-priced salad. It wants to be your favorite restaurant, too.
The organic grocery giant announced earlier this week that it would be filling the newly created role of vice president of culinary and hospitality with renowned chef Tien Ho.
According to an article from Fortune, the high-end supermarket, which has struggled as of late with dipping sales and a series of scandals involving improper labeling, is “doubling down” on its prepared food niche, which generates roughly $3 billion annually in sales (or nearly one-fifth of its profits) and remains a key differentiator for the company, along with its bakery operation. Hiring chef Ho may be a sign that the company is looking to its prepared food business to get it out of its current slump.
Ho will start his new role in January and tells Fortune that he plans to work closely with more local chefs to bring their cuisine into the stores. “The mass scale of the impact I can have — I really fell in love with that,” he said. Ho’s résumé includes stints within David Chang’s Momofuku empire, including his midtown outpost, Má Pêche, where he was named best new chef by New York Magazine in 2011. Most recently, Ho ran the culinary department for Morgans Hotel Group.
The strategy could also be an attempt on Whole Foods’ part to protect its turf, as Fortune posits. Large chains like Costco have already bitten into Whole Foods’ dominance in natural and organic groceries, while companies like Sprouts and Kroger are starting to ramp up their prepared food offerings, meaning that the organic grocery giant is facing competition from many directions.