February 13, 2018 – Just days after C.E.O. Wendy Collie resigned and plans to open a New Leaf store in Carmel were scrapped, the owner of the Felton and Boulder Creek markets says he is exiting the New Leaf/New Seasons group and re-branding his stores as Wild Roots Markets.
“It was a tough decision,” says owner Bob Locatelli, “We’ve had a great run with New Leaf for 24 plus years, but just decided to go off in a new direction. It got to the point where we wanted to focus more on our local community here in the San Lorenzo Valley.” He says they have been considering the move for nearly two years, as the formerly small Santa Cruz-based natural foods chain entered into a phase of rapid expansion, after being purchased by Portland-based New Seasons.
The Felton and Boulder Creek markets have always been independently owned by Locatelli under a licensing agreement with New Leaf. He sent a formal letter to the grocery chain headquarters on January 31 relaying his intention to pull out of the agreement effective April 2. Then at a meeting made the announcement to 125 employees of the two markets.
“The room erupted in clapping and hooting and hollering,” Locatelli says. “There is great acceptance of what we’re doing and we’ve re-identified our purpose of providing good quality food to nourish our community.”
The new name, Wild Roots Market, reflects the desire to be rooted in the community and the wild part “fits the area,” according to Locatelli who has lived in the fiercely-independent San Lorenzo Valley all his life.
In a news release, New Leaf vice president Mary Wright said: “We support their decision and wish them well as they move forward under their new brand. Serving our local communities with the nourishment to feed families through socially and environmentally-minded practices is a value we will continue to share, regardless of what sign hangs on the doors.”
Moving forward, Wild Roots has already hired a marketing director and director of procurement. The stores will be affiliated with the Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association, which helps with volume buying for its members.
However much will remain the same, including relationships with local farms that provide the 100% organic produce for the two stores. “We were the first retailer to be CCOF-certified organic in the entire United States back in 2000. We’ve made a commitment to our customers to have 100% organic produce,” says chief financial officer Kristi Harwell, acknowledging that, “Some things were getting more difficult being controlled out of Portland.”
Harwell and general manager Nellie Donovan are overseeing details of the transition. The new structure will allow them to be in charge of messaging to their customers and a new website is in the works. “We want to be able to tell people our own story,” she says.
“We’re nervous because there’s a lot to do in the next two months, but we’re very excited,” Locatelli says.
New Leaf Markets in Santa Cruz are currently under fire on two fronts, with petitions circulating on change.org to keep the grocery stores at least 80% organic and calling on the market to allow a bike trail alongside the parking lot of the westside flagship store.
The surprise resignation of Collie last week signaled a shift in strategy away from expansion, with the chain promising to “fund improvements for existing stores and invest in developing programs and services.” They also said a New Leaf Market set to open this fall in Aptos will move forward as planned.