Bruce Green began working in the grocery industry as a high-schooler in 1973 and, with the exception of a couple of brief stops along the way as a lumberjack and laborer at a nuclear power plant, he has worked much of his life as a grocer—including nearly 19 years with Whole Foods.
"This will be my 41st Thanksgiving in the grocery business, four of them in Boise," he said, standing amid crowds of shoppers at the Boise Whole Foods who were already filling their baskets for the Thanksgiving season.
Green has been the so-called "team leader" at Idaho's only Whole Foods since it opened on Broadway Avenue on Nov. 14, 2013. Taking a respite from his managerial role, Green sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about the food business, the holiday season and finding great employees.
What brought you to Boise?
I had worked for Whole Foods, primarily in Colorado, for quite some time; but years ago I told our regional president that if there was ever a Boise store, that's where my wife and I wanted to live. They almost moved forward with the store in 2008 but then the recession came through. Ultimately, they came to me in 2010 and said they were going to open in Boise.
What's the secret to hiring and keeping good people?
Hire attitude and teach the skills. We've hired a lot of people with no experience in the grocery business, but you can do so much with the right attitude. Experience in grocery? It's a bonus, but not necessary. We have a lot of originals here, but a lot of young people who started in this store have asked for opportunities with Whole Foods in other parts of the U.S.
I know that bringing a national brand to Boise is challenging because our city is isolated from other major metropolitan areas. How does that impact your distribution channels?
We're about equal distance from our Denver and Seattle distribution centers. If the weather is tricky in one direction versus the other, we'll place orders from the alternate location.
And local producers?
We have about 170 local vendors. Our procurement team partnered with the Idaho Department of Ag to bring in a lot of regional producers.
Is your culture any different for those vendors who have had relationships with traditional grocers for years?
We're always visiting farms and packaging facilities. We've got pretty high animal compassion standards, so we work with a lot of local folks to help them with their own animal compassion guidelines.
And Whole Foods has been a part of the national conversation on GMOs.
Last year, our company gave all of our suppliers five years to complete GMO labeling. Some thought that was a long time, but it's a big deal.
Can I assume you have a playbook for the 72 hours leading up to Thanksgiving?
72 Hours? Maybe for consumers. But much of our work is done in the 10 days before Thanksgiving. We're going to get 1,500 to 2,000 turkeys delivered here. But Thanksgiving can be like our playoffs. Honestly, it's an easier game because people are looking toward that one big meal. The challenge builds as people begin entertaining the two weeks before Christmas and then New Year's. There's goose, pork crown roast, lamb, prime rib, ham, turducken...
Wait, a minute—turducken? I thought that was a novelty item. I remember John Madden joking about turducken on Thanksgiving football broadcasts in the 1990s.
Yes, we make turducken [chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey]. We get quite a few orders for turducken.
A lot of people aren't thrilled with the idea of cooking a turkey, let alone a turducken. Pre-cooked meals are big sellers, yes?
More and more customers don't want their fridges filled, or ovens for that matter. Many of them pick up their meals at our holiday table. We're even open Thanksgiving Day to accommodate that.
What's the simplest turkey alternative?
The night before Thanksgiving is probably our biggest pizza night of the year. It's easy and definitely not turkey.