Reporting Scott T. Sterling
Handmade quinoa salad? Check. Gluten-free vegan pumpkin bread? Check? Fully sustainable seafood? Check. Daft Punk, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones on cruelty and GMO-free vinyl? Check, check and check.
This past weekend (August 17), a series of Whole Foods Markets jumped into the world of vinyl records by unveiling new “carefully curated” record outlets in five stores across Southern California. You can now buy records at locations in Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Pasadena, Santa Barbara and Venice, along with “locally sourced” reclaimed wood headphones by LSTN. Stores hosted splashy launch events complete with parking lot performances from the likes of Dawes and Cary Brothers.
“Whole Foods Market is excited to scratch the surface of the music industry by introducing vinyl records and LSTN Headphones for our shoppers who want to turn the volume up on their regular music listening experience,” said Mike Bowen, the company’s executive coordinator, Southern Pacific region, in a press release. “This launch isn’t just about stocking our shelves with something new and different – it’s about listening to our shoppers and giving them access to the things they want – whether it’s their favorite cheese or their favorite way to enjoy music.”
While the health-minded supermarket chain and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories might seem to make strange bedfellows, it’s a savvy pairing. Whole Foods Markets are representative of a particular lifestyle-oriented demographic eager to indulge their cultivated tastes, be they for locally-sourced, GMO-free produce or that classic Fleetwood Mac release on 180 gram vinyl. Given the current renaissance of vinyl records (Digital Music News has already shown a 27.9 percent jump in vinyl sales this year over 2012), especially among consumers aged 18-24, stocking Whole Foods Markets with the latest LPs from Arcade Fire and Tegan and Sara starts to make perfect sense.
“I can’t imagine they’re going to make lots of money from it. To me, it’s like their version of putting People magazine by the check-out counter,” opined Michelangeo Battaglia, owner of Vinyl Dreams, a freshly minted dance music-focused record store in San Francisco’s Lower Haight district that’s already been visited by such sonic luminaries as Hot Chip and DJ Doc Martin. “They’re just taking advantage of a trend, ultimately. The people that are really driving the engine of this vinyl revival don’t really give a shit about Whole Foods hawking copies of the new Daft Punk album. But I will admit it’s somewhat irritating and distasteful to someone genuinely committed to vinyl record culture.”
Still, like fellow culture-based retailer Urban Outfitters (which has found success selling vinyl, albeit not without some controversy among music fans), Whole Foods Markets claim a relatively captive consumer with the means to kick their impulse purchases up from $7 magazines to $20 vinyl albums. While record sales may or may not significantly grow the company’s bottom line (Whole Foods Market, Inc. generated $3.1 billion in sales over the third-quarter of 2013 alone), it could be enough for the vinyl displays to become more than just a passing fancy in the company’s supermarkets and into a permanent fixture.
We want to hear your opinion on Whole Foods Markets getting into the vinyl records game. Is it a good sign, indicative of vinyl’s revitalized return? Or is it just another nail in the coffin of real record stores, and a gloomy harbinger for the future of records? Inquiring minds want to know!