Walk into the new Whole Foods in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and rather than bumping into that omnipresent pile of organic avocados, you’ll discover succulents, orchids, handmade plates, scented candles, and copper bowls.
It’s part of a new mini store within Whole Foods dubbed Plant & Plate. It’s got plants. It’s got plates. And it’s got pretty much any other little piece of Instagram-ready home decor item you could imagine.
“Three years ago, we really started being a lot more proactive in the housewares category. Not just OXO goods [the award-winning kitchen wares], but to really go outside the box and find items that we think our customers would enjoy,” says Genevieve Monette, Whole Body coordinator (the store’s personal care segment) at Whole Foods.
While Whole Foods had experimented with limited items like Hedley & Bennet aprons in the past, the Bridgewater store offered a unique architectural enclave–an opportunity to put a small store outside of Whole Foods itself–that inspired the company to attempt a more realized housewares spin-off in Plant & Plate. The space has that rustic chic, Pinteresty vibe–an inoffensive interior design catchall.
Much like Whole Foods made a name for itself by selling local produce at scale, Plant & Plate has relationships with local vendors, like New Jersey’s Keiko Inouye pottery to sell artisan ramen bowls. Amazon’s global retail influence this is not–Monette assures me. Plant & Plate lives entirely under the Whole Foods umbrella.
So why housewares? “It’s a category that’s been growing for us and doing well,” says Monette, echoing the sentiments of much of the grocery industry. “And it’s an impulse buy for a customer.” Groceries are a notoriously low-margin product, which also requires retailers to float a lot of inventory that can spoil before it’s sold. Housewares, on the other hand, have some of the biggest markups in retail–as high as 60%. If a turnip and a candle take up the same footprint, you can almost bet that Whole Foods can make more money off the candle. “Well, it’s not perishable!” Monette says, when I ask about the margins on the housewares category. “It doesn’t go bad, so it’s been a good investment for us.”
Whole Foods declined to comment on specific sales, but says that Plant & Plate has been quite popular. In turn, the company will open at least one more location before the end of year, and they imagine that it could scale regionally, or even nationwide if things continue to go well–assumably with a continued commitment to local vendors. Though not every Whole Foods has a dedicated space for a stand-alone store within the store, so the company would have to figure out how to incorporate housewares in new ways.
“We’re not taking apples or bananas away for it,” Monette says. “This [first store] is a showcase feature. We’ll be able to reproduce it in other stores as well, but also layer in those selections in smaller format stores as well. It doesn’t need a big room.”