Much of his free time is spent combing yogurt aisles of stores throughout Europe, searching for the next big thing in the U.S: thicker, cheesier yogurts. Europeans, who he says are more emotional about their food than Americans, want a "thicker, creamier mouth feel" when they eat yogurt. Americans eventually will, too, which helps explain why Greek yogurt sales have grown so quickly in the U.S. And that's the next generation of yogurt he's searching for: thicker and cheesier than Greek.
•Get more local. Whole Foods executives know there are few things folks are more passionate about than where their food comes from.
Next year it will open a store in Brooklyn, N.Y., with something none of its stores have: a 10,000-square-foot roof-top garden. "You can't get more locally grown than that," says David Lannon, executive vice president of operations.
Most recently, it took that consumer passion for all-things-local to a new store in Kailua, Hawaii. The store has a fish bar that serves locally caught, sustainably sourced fish chopped with items such as onions and soy sauce to create an "emotional connection" to what locals ate as kids, Lannon says. The store targets locals, not tourists, with three porches where folks can sit, eat and socialize. "It brings folks full circle to their memories of growing up in Hawaii."
There's also a Whole Foods in Petaluma, Calif., where eggs are sold — when available — from a local farmer whose 200 chickens are never kept inside or in cages. Never mind that the eggs cost twice as much as conventional eggs. "Customers call the store and ask if that egg delivery arrived," Lannon says. "Some decide to come based only on that."
•Serve "comfort" at 30,000 feet. Then, there's British Airways. It recently realized that its first-class passengers don't want fancy-dancy desserts. Last fall, it started serving what passengers told them they wanted most: comfort food. Its Crumb Crumble cobbler was such a smash, when caterers tried to replace it on the menu with a different dessert, passengers went ballistic, says Lynn McClelland, head of catering. It's all about emotions — even the most primitive, childhood emotions, she says. When stuck high above the ground for hours in a plane, she says, "Passengers tell us what they want most is what their moms used to feed them when they were 12."