Whole Foods, the grocery store that earned the not-so-flattering nickname “Whole Paycheck,” is beginning to open in low-income neighborhoods.

There are now Whole Foods stores in low-income neighborhoods in Detroit and New Orleans, and a store is planned for Englewood, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago.

Why is Whole Foods moving into these areas? The answer is more than simply making healthy food available to more people; it's a business decision. And it could be helping cities as a whole.

According to Slate, bringing Whole Foods to Detroit would serve several purposes:

  • It would serve middle-class residents who already live in the city and also bring in more middle-class residents. It would be a “catalyst for gentrification” and help increase the tax base.
  • It would provide new jobs in the city.
  • It would keep money in the city. Instead of residents buying groceries outside city limits, they’d be spending their cash there.
Because of these benefits, Detroit welcomed Whole Foods and offered the company public subsidies and private grants to make it worth the company's while. The store seems to be thriving and benefiting the city.

Cronkite News reports that Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Officer Walter Robb said that Whole Foods lowers its prices slightly in these low-income neighborhoods while maintaining the high standards the brand is known for. The stores also offer free healthy eating classes so shoppers can learn how to make the most of the foods they buy.

While at first it doesn’t seem to make sense that Whole Foods would choose to open stores in these lower-income neighborhoods, they seem to be doing some good. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.