Whole Foods Market is fueling development of independent food growers and processors with a program funnelling up to $25m in low-interest loans.
The Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP), launched in 2007, recently surpassed its goal of funding $10m in loans to small-scale food businesses. To date, LPLP has provided 184 loans to 155 companies.
The $400K loan that pushed LPLP over the $10M mark went to WholeSoy & Co., a California processor specializing in non-GMO, organic, vegan, gluten-free soy yogurt. The award is timely; in mid-2013, the company’s co-packer closed without warning, leaving the company with no way to package their goods.
“The loan from Whole Foods Market, one of our original and long-term retail supporters, gave us access to the resources we needed at a crucial time,” said Ted Nordquist, CEO of WholeSoy & Co. “This additional $400K will help us realize our dream of having our own dairy-free yogurt facility.”
Other loans include Z-Best Bakery, an Illinois producer that will use the funds to purchase a shrink-wrap machine for its nut- and lactose-free kosher baked goods. Evol, a Colorado maker of frozen burritos with national distribution, is using its loan to expand production and acquire equipment, including in-line freezing machinery and a checkweigher unit.
Betsy Foster, Whole Foods Market global vice president of growth and business development, said the company decided to expand the program based on the success experienced by past recipients
“By playing a role in advancing new ideas, growing businesses and realizing dreams, Whole Foods Market stays connected with both our neighborhood producers and our global food community,” she said.
The expansion will bring an infusion of $15m more for the loan program. Potential applicants include producers offering artisan edibles, hydroponically farmed foods, GMO-free yogurt, and more.
Dwight Richmond, Whole Foods Market global grocery purchasing coordinator, said the company is rewarded by the process of building relationships with producers, and collaborating on business-building ideas.
“Whether it’s improving the business plan, discussing market trends or connecting people with new partners in our network, it’s exciting to see the results of great teamwork combined with monetary support,” he said.
Several of LPLP recipients produce products sold on Whole Foods shelves (gluten-free bakers, organic farmers, etc.); others run operations that support the natural-foods industry. Many of the recipient businesses are woman-owned.
Loan recipients must meet Whole Foods Market’s exacting quality standards, use the funds to expand their business, and demonstrate a strong business plan. Typical loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and have fixed low-interest rates.