story by Kim Souza
The local food movement continues to pick up steam with help from retailers like Whole Foods, who recently pledged another $15 million in low interest loans to local food producers.
The Austin-based retailer said last week after reaching its $10 million loan commitment it would ante up to $25 million in funding to its local producer loan program (LPLP) that has provided 184 loans to 155 companies since its inception in 2007.
Fran Free, owner of Fayetteville-based Oh Baby Foods, said she took part in the local producer loan program a couple of years ago after working with a local food forager to get her organic baby food on the retailer’s shelf.
Oh Baby Foods has made its way into more than 230 Whole Foods stores across the U.S. and continues to expand its line of all-natural products.
At this point, Oh Baby Foods is the only Arkansas company to take advantage of Whole Foods' local producer loan program, but that could change as the retailer is committed to expanding the program.
“By playing a role in advancing new ideas, growing businesses and realizing dreams, Whole Foods stays connected with both our neighborhood producers and our global food community,” said Betsy Foster, global vice president of growth and business development for Whole Foods.
With the additional commitment in funding, the company welcomes new loan applications from producers seeking to expand their businesses. Whether applicants offer a distinctive artisan food product or a new hydroponic farming facility, Whole Foods Market loan administrators, buyers and local foragers work closely with business owners to drive growth and success.
“The most rewarding part of the loan process is building relationships and sharing ideas for progress,” said Dwight Richmond, global grocery purchasing coordinator for Whole Foods. “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.”
While some loan recipients sell products in Whole Foods Market stores, such as organic vegetable farmers, grass-fed cattle ranchers, natural body care producers and gluten-free bakers, many other recipients operate businesses that support the natural foods industry. Additionally, 43 companies are owned by women and an additional 36 are co-owned by women.
Loan recipients must meet Whole Foods’ quality standards, use the funds for expansion and have a viable business plan. Typical loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and have fixed low-interest rates. Previous loan recipients have used their loans for purchasing more livestock, investing in new equipment, expanding production facilities, adapting to more sustainable practices or converting to organic production.