Whole Foods Market touts its local ingredients, from lettuce to lamb. But the aisles also stock Turkish delight, Italian olive oil and jasmine tea from China. And while we can’t wait to grab those goods at their new Gowanus store, few could argue that experiencing them in their native environment—an Istanbul marketplace, a Tuscan olive grove, or a Yunnan teahouse —would be worlds more fun.
Whole Foods, it turns out, agrees. Which is why the company has launched a new travel program called Whole Journeys.
Mastermind Kathy Dragon worked for 20 years in adventure and food travel and first got involved with Whole Foods when members of its executive board began tagging along on her tours a decade ago. The Whole Foods head honchos were hooked, joining Dragon on 15 tours to diverse destinations such as Scotland, Peru, Turkey, Patagonia, New Zealand, Hawaii and the Basque region. And eventually they signed up for a different kind of journey—into the travel business.
“There’s adventure travel and there’s food travel, but we’re putting those two together to create a new category,” says Dragon, now executive director of Whole Journeys. “I call it the active foodie.”
In April Whole Journeys launched its first trips, including a visit to tiny Turkish villages, an epicurean biking tour through Italy and a hike along the historic tea and horse caravan route in China. Soon they’ll add destinations from the Salmon River in Idaho to the Dolomites region of the Alps. Trips range from $3,000 to $4,500, and usually span one to two weeks. Groups are small—16 guests maximum—and participants won’t be zipping from Sardinia to Tuscany to Rome.
“We use walking, biking and even rafting to get closer to these producers, markets and villages, rather than just pulling up in a bus,” she says. Nor do Dragon’s guests wait to be served. Instead, participants take an active role, helping make cheese or yogurt or hitting the hills to forage wild foods.
By this time next year, Dragon aims to expand to Argentina and Peru. She’s also cooking up plans in the Rocky Mountains for connecting with local foragers; Delhi and Rajasthan for traditional Hindu family and festival cooking; and Croatia for slurping down flavors of the Adriatic Sea.
After decades of Whole Foods bringing artisan ingredients to their customers, they’re excited to do just the opposite.