Rumor control: Whole Foods to buy Earth Fare

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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wholefoodsLogo1The latest rumor working its way around town is that Whole Foods is planning to buy Earth Fare. Whole Foods is the Texas-based natural foods grocery store behemoth, while Earth Fare is an Asheville-based company with about 30 stores in nine states.

Last year, a private equity firm bought an 80 percent stake in Earth Fare. From

Oak Hill Capital Partners said it has acquired an 80% ownership stake in Earth Fare in a move it said would prepare the 25-store natural food chain for “its next phase of growth.”
Oak Hill, a New York-based private equity firm, is buying the share from Monitor Clipper Partners, the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that had owned Earth Fare since 2006. Monitor Clipper, along with Earth Fare’s current management team led by Jack Murphy, its chief executive officer, will retain a minority ownership. The transaction values the company at $300 million.

It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see to Earth Fare change hands again. This is what private equity firms do, just as we saw last week with the sale of the Grove Park Inn.

Earth Fare started in 1975 as Dinner for the Earth, and its healthy foods would be in line with Whole Foods corporate philosophy. Whole Foods is already planning to build its first store in Asheville, down along Tunnel Road. Earth Fare has locations on the west and south sides of town. With Publix scouting Asheville locations, and Trader Joe’s on the way, could Whole Foods be looking to solidify its place in the Asheville market?

So, just throwing this out there. Anyone have any deets either way?

Image link for Whole Foods.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Mack Jurphey April 23, 2014

    Earth Fare is by dar the worst company I have ever worked for, and I’ve worked for some pretty shadey places in my day. I now work at Whole Foods, and I can tell you it’s a world of difference. Earth Fare was setting up to sell for a long time, in fact the CEO Jack Murphy is a career CEO who goes into companies a la Mitt Romney; He takes a failing company and makes it profitable to sell. That’s his job. The problem was that they spent so much time and money trying to groom the company to sell to Whole Foods, not taking into account that Whole Foods might not be interested, which turned out to be the case. So instead they sold out to the highest bidder, who imho paid too much. Wages are lower at EF than in most other grocery chains, they don’t care about Local, they don’t care about their customers (many of whom have left them behind), they certainly don’t care about their employees and actually treat them with hostility when confronted with serious workplace issues. I gave them the benifit of the doubt for 5 years, was over pricing and never made more than $10/hr. The best chance of a raise is 3% once a year. For EF to match what I was STARTED at with WF I’d have to work at EF for 10 more years. When I left, I didn’t even have a schedule, I had to request hours daily. There are so many stories I, and others, could tell but it’s too much to put on this thread.

    I hope they go out of business, they’ve earned it.

    1. Divalle January 12, 2015

      Wow! Shameful!

  2. knoxvillian March 16, 2014

    After researching Oak Hill Capital Partners, I see that Bill Gates is a major stockholder. If you research his politics, it’s frightening to think that he is “buying up” our conscientious local food sources. This could eventually become a monopoly and influence our ability to have access to truly heirloom, organic, GMO-free goods.

    80% is a lot! Definitely all that’s needed to control the majority vote.

    What were the folks who sold out thinking???!!! Must have been for the $$ – certainly not for their loyal customers.

  3. Jeff October 17, 2013

    It’s suprising that Sprouts isn’t mentioned in the equation.

  4. Fred June 19, 2013

    We have an Earth Fair and a Whole Foods in the Greenville area. Earth Fair just feels more laid back. Plus Whole Foods is on Woodruff rd, where the traffic makes it feel like Hell.

  5. Pete June 19, 2013

    Other than carrying higher end specialty items, the 2 stores have very different philosophies. EF has much more stringent guidelines for their products than WF in terms of accepted ingredients, sourcing, etc. I’d like to see both options available, but would be sad if lost EF as it’s the entity with the most market clout to offer the sourced products at the most competitive rate.

    1. lexingtonian June 20, 2013

      Not these days Pete.

      I have seen more questionable low cost ingredients at Earth Fare since their takeover and the quality of the prepared foods has taken a big tumble.

      I really enjoy some of the stuff Whole Foods is making, even if its made in Austin and then shipped to Asheville.

    2. Moral laurel March 29, 2014

      Plez don’t be fooled… That place is a huge lie!!! Don’t trust earth fare!! They are an immoral company . The “guidelines” are just another face. You think you are recycling it all goes in the huge dumpster at night. Nasty food practices, broken equipment , often “B” “C” food rating by health dpt. lies lies lies…… To see the inside always visit … Yup . They can’t even give a holiday greeting to employees … Budget cuts …..

  6. Kristi June 19, 2013

    I sure hope Whole Foods does not buy EarthFare! Whole Foods was terrible to my small local company – they do NOT support local.

    1. Ron June 19, 2013

      NOT TRUE Wholefoods has given loans to Asheville local companies like Smiling Harra’s Tempeh, and Buchi Kombucha. Especially now, after the drama with buying Greenlife, the store supports Asheville local more than ever! The Greenlife store has a “local products liaison” to assist with local companies to get products into Greenlife. I do not know your company or products, but if they meet the quality standards, and they are a good fit for the store, you should come back and see about getting your products into Wholefoods. It is a big company and products need to be of quality and safe for it’s consumers. Wholefoods knows what it is like to start out small and have big dreams – check out the history of the company.

  7. Smytty June 19, 2013

    As a former Food Hole worker, I’ve been hearing this rumor for about 15 years. It would have made a lot more sense at that time, as they didn’t have overlapping market footprints.

    I can’t imagine that even Whole Foods would want to have FOUR locations in Asheville (erstwhile Greenlife, announced Tunnel Rd location, 240 Earth Fare, and Hendo Rd Earth Fare).


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