Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Atlanta Company A Casualty of Amazon's Whole Foods Market Acquisition?

AtlantaFresh Artisan Creamery dropped a bombshell Monday when it announced that its products have been dropped from all Whole Foods Market stores nationwide, effective immediately.  The company, based in Norcross, had for years developed a close relationship with Whole Foods, going as far as to create brand extensions and develop new products specifically for the organic grocer. 

Ron Marks, aka "The Big Cheese," started AtlantaFresh in 2009.  In December of that year, the company began selling its Greek yogurt to Whole Foods's South Region.  In September 2015, Whole Foods Market (WFM) and Atlanta Fresh (AF) entered into a seven year agreement for AF to produce Certified Non-GMO, 100% grassfed milk and yogurt for all WFM stores in the South, Florida and SW regions (about 110 stores).

At the same time as the agreement, AF received a $500,000 loan from WFM as part of the Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) which enabled AF to double the size of their facility to build out milk bottling capabilities.  AF spent about $1.8 million (via debt financing) to complete the expansion.  WFM began purchasing milk from AF in July 2016, which triggered the start of the seven year contract.     

This past August, Amazon completed its nearly $14 billion acquisition of WFM.  Also in August, but reportedly planned months prior, popular but ubiquitous Greek yogurt purveyor Chobani returned to Whole Foods shelves after having been taken off the grocer's shelves in 2014.  Whole Foods said in 2014 that it was looking for more exclusive Greek yogurt products (presumably AtlantaFresh) due to the category's explosion. Reports were that Chobani's products didn't meet its stricter, non-GMO labeling requirements (Chobani denied the claim).

WFM canceled the milk producing contract with AF this past September, nearly six full years early.  Per the terms of the contract, WFM forgave the LPLP loan in full, which unfortunately does little for AF, as the money was spent on milk processing equipment purchased to produce milk almost exclusively for WFM.

Fans of the brand began to sound the alarm via the AF Facebook page in mid-October, when at least two customers reported having had difficulty finding Atlanta Fresh products at the newly opened Whole Foods in Kennesaw.  ToNeTo Atlanta attended the Kennesaw store opening and observed shelves fully stocked with the company's product save for the popular seasonal flavor, Pumpkin Pie.

AF confirmed to ToNeTo Atlanta that as of October 2017, WFM is no longer purchasing any products (milk or yogurt) from AF.  ToNeTo Atlanta visited the Briarcliff Whole Foods Market store Halloween night and found a limited amount of plain AtlantaFresh on the shelf with no price below it.  In place of what was once an AtlantaFresh heavy yogurt shelf, Chobani is now the dominant offering. Interestingly, still displayed above the entire yogurt section was classic Whole Foods Market signage touting their "LPLP" partnership with AtlantaFresh.  

Also of note is a "commitment to customers" at the register that states in part, "we provide a unique shopping experience,  offering the highest quality and best items available."  While Chobani is by no means a "bad product," it's hardly unique and some might argue is not the "best item available," although it may be cheaper and provide better margins to Whole Foods.  

Although no specific reason was mentioned in AtlantaFresh's announcement, the company did indicate that they were just one of many local brands across the country discontinued from the popular grocer.  WFM reportedly told AF that under new "category management" procedures, AF products "no longer met their profitability standards."

ToNeTo Atlanta reached out to Rachael Deal Wilson, who handles public relations for Whole Foods Market, Mid-Atlantic & South Region, for comment on the decision, but have not heard back.  

AtlantaFresh posted the following message to their Facebook page Monday night:

"Hello AtlantaFresh fans. It is with heavy hearts that after an 8 year relationship, we announce our departure from all Whole Foods locations, effective immediately.

We all know that Whole Foods has gone through lots of recent changes including the Amazon acquisition and changes in their Senior management. It was Whole Foods decision to pull us from their shelves and discontinue our product line, as was the case with many local brands across the country.

While we look for our next large yogurt retailer, Find us HERE:

•Visit PUBLIX Atlanta stores for all of our fresh milk products. If you would like to buy AtlantaFresh yogurt at Publix, please let them know—either by talking to the store manager or contacting Publix online.

• Request our yogurt at KROGER! 

•Find our Yogurt at Atlanta locations of Sprouts Farmers Markets! 

•Support your local corner store, CSA, and farmers market! [CSA Stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you're purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer.]

•Check the website. We are updating our store locator daily.

•Visit our Company Store located at the Creamery just North of the Perimeter on Peachtree Industrial Blvd! 

We would like to thank all of our friends, family, media folks, bloggers, chefs, shops and customers, with all of our hearts, for making us the #1 Southeast Greek Yogurt brand for 8 years. We hope you will follow us to Publix and beyond.  💚💚💚💚💚💚💚💚"

AtlantaFresh products can also be found in Savi Provisions in Midtown, Inman Park & Buckhead, Alon's in Morningside and Dunwoody, and Buford Highway Farmers Market in Doraville

Ron Marks tells ToNeTo Atlanta that the company store, located at 6679 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Suite M, in Norcross, will now be open Monday-Saturday from 11-6, twice the number of days it was open previously.  In addition, Marks indicates that he is in talks to re-enter local Kroger stores as well as potentially bring his products to more Publix stores.  AF yogurt products were previously available at Kroger stores but were taken off the shelves after AF's local distributor filed for bankruptcy last year. 
AtlantaFresh milk products are already available in Atlanta area Publix stores 
Marks is also looking to have his products carried in stores in Buckhead and Midtown, so if you own a shop or know of a perfect place, contact The Big Cheese. 

Have you noticed any other local or regional brands discontinued from Whole Foods recently?  What are your thoughts on the situation?  Have you never tried Atlanta Fresh?

Please share your thoughts below.  


Anonymous said...

I had AF for the first time just a few days ago. I got it from BHFM because their Chobani selection was pretty weak. It was like $2.50 a pop but I'm down for supporting local. It was far more tangy than I was expecting for Greek yogurt. I'm not sure I'd get it again.

Anonymous said...

That is sad. Such a good product. Delicious. I think WF is overrated. I stopped enjoying WF when they purchased Wild Oats and Harry's. They have become to big like Kroger (who I also can't stand). Give me Publix/Trader Joe's/Spouts/Fresh market etc. Shame on you WF for pretending to care about the local businesses. Chobani Sucks!! Nothing special. Even Walmart sells it.

Unknown said...

Love Noosa. Australian yougurt. Available at WF.

Anonymous said...

How about approaching Your DeKalb Farmer's Market?

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