|Ryan Parker gave a cooking demonstration for Whole Foods’ Wellness Club members in Dedham. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)|
Shelves and health
Whole Foods launches Wellness Club in Dedham
Take a yoga class, learn how to caramelize onions, or set off for a group hike.
The offerings, which sound like they should be on a spa schedule, will be featured at the Whole Foods supermarket in Dedham starting on Monday.
Whole Foods Market Inc., based in Austin, Texas, has chosen its largest New England store to debut the grocery store chain’s first Wellness Club - a concept that combines health with commerce.
“This isn’t about weights and scales and measures,’’ said Whole Foods’ Heather Hardy, who is overseeing what Whole Foods bills as a lifestyle club. “It’s about empowering people to make healthier choices.’’
Access to that empowerment comes at a price: It costs $199 to become a member of the Wellness Club, and monthly dues are $45.
As at a gym, club members check in at a front desk, but in this case it’s steps from the salad bar, near the fish. Inside the glassed-in, 950-square-foot space - with sage-colored walls and fresh-cut flowers - they can access a reference library, undergo a lifestyle evaluation, or take a cooking class.
Part of the concept is to learn how to prepare a dish - such as mango quinoa porridge - from a chef in a sleek kitchen, and then head out into the store to find, and buy, the ingredients.
“The key is what you are eating,’’ said Alona Pulde, a Los Angeles doctor who helped shape the concept for Whole Foods. “It’s the how and why,’’ behind a healthy lifestyle, Pulde said.
Help from visiting nutritionists, lectures on how to handle late-night cravings, and even day trips to leaf peep are part of the club’s offerings. A personal coach can create an eating plan and club members can sign up for one-on-one cooking session with chef Ryan Parker at an additional cost.
“Since it’s located in an actual grocery store people can take the practical knowledge learned and put it into practice when they shop,’’ said Whole Foods founder John Mackey in an e-mail.
A thousand products that meet the club’s code of health - whole foods, plants, nutrient-dense foods, and healthy fats -have been tagged with the Wellness Club seal of approval.
Club members receive a 10 percent discount on those items, from produce to the bulk aisle. It helps shoppers “cut though all the marketing hype,’’ said Jeff Novick, a Florida dietitian overseeing the launch. “People are saying ‘I just want someone to help me,’ ’’ Novick said.
Heidi Feinstein, a Boston nutritionist and holistic therapist, called the concept “brilliant’’ and said it is “exactly what consumers want and need.’’
“A lot of people get overwhelmed when trying to initiate a lifestyle change,’’ said Feinstein, who owns Life Alive organic cafes in Cambridge and Lowell and is not associated with Whole Foods. “They can purchase a lot of stuff that they don’t know how to use, end up wasting it and don’t succeed.’’
“It’s nice to have a guide when introducing yourself to all the abundant ways to revitalize your life,’’ she said.
Whole Foods plans to roll out Wellness Clubs in Chicago and Oakland, Calif., next month, with New York City and Princeton, N.J., locations to follow in October. If they are successful, all 310 stores across the country, the United Kingdom, and Canada will eventually have clubs, Mackey said.
“We believe people also need more resources and tools to help them make more informed decisions,’’ said Mackey, who is also the company’s co-chief executive.
Some of those tools are conveniently located right outside the club’s door: A stack of blenders, pasta pots, and skillets used during cooking demonstrations are available for purchase.
Although centered in an overflowing superstore known for its pricey specialty products, getting people to spend more on groceries is not the end goal, Wellness Club officials said.
“We are teaching people to reconfigure their plate - the food can be acquired anywhere,’’ said Matthew Lederman, Whole Foods’ global medical executive of health and wellness.
It’s less about sales and more about “empowering people to eat better,’’ said Novick. “That’s smart business.’’
Other perks include a Wednesday night supper club. For $10, members can dine on such foods as sweet potato tacos and healthy lasagna in the store café. Tie-ins with restaurants, gyms, yoga studios, and massage parlors are also on the agenda.
The flurry of activity around the soon-to-open club this week caught the attention of several shoppers, including English Levin of Newton.
“I’d like to bring my 8-year-old son with me to a class to introduce him to new foods,’’ she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I live in Newton, but I’ll trek back when it opens.’’