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Burning Question: How do local artisans get their products into Whole Foods?

Lani Conway | November 16, 2012 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

The secret, says local Donna Sky, founder of Love & Hummus (which is currently featured in 36 local Whole Foods stores), is Harvindar Singh, the store’s rock star regional product forager. The Emeryville-based buyer has spent the past six years scouring local farmers’ markets and talking up companies that make what he deems the “next big thing.”

“Harv is really a champion of local producers,” Sky says, “and he has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of us grow our businesses.” Actually, it’s been around 500 so far, according to Singh, but more are on the way. “I get calls and emails from hopeful local suppliers all the time,” he says. Vendors who would like to see their own creations on Whole Foods shelves have only to meet strict FDA standards, operate from a certified commercial kitchen, and (the difficult part) have “a killer product to sell.”

But if you’re really hoping to catch Singh’s eye, it might be a good idea to think juice. “Juice cleansing [products] seem to be hot right now,” he says, which is why he’s working with local Living Greens. Other edibles Singh has coming down the pipeline? A custard ice cream sandwich, made with Starter Bakery’s famously buttery kouign amann pastry, as well as Community Grains’ whole-grain pastas—both from companies based in Oakland.

But not every product is in demand, Singh says. “We’re flooded with the same artisanmade products, like jams and granola.”

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