Big Food Predators Visit Pueblo

The last thing Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley needs is more of the same extraction economy that has forced such dire decline in the communities along Highway 50. Whole Foods, and the companies Mark Retzloff has been associated with, represent the kind of industrial food system structure that has concentrated wealth at the top and drained farmers and ranchers of their livelihoods and emptied out our rural communities. Mike Callicrate

April 16, 2019

Robb, food execs taking stock of Pueblo’s economy

By Peter Roper

Posted Apr 16, 2019 at 5:08 PM Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 5:08 PM

Farms and food can be powerful economic driver

Walter Robb, former chief executive of Whole Foods, was giving a speech in Denver years ago when a Pueblo businessman approached and asked if Robb would consider opening one of his natural-foods grocery stores here.

“At the time, that idea just didn’t fit with our plans, but I never forgot the question,” Robb said Tuesday in a meeting with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board.

Which helps explain why Robb and a delegation of business executives are in Pueblo on Wednesday to meet with local growers, producers and entrepreneurs about the opportunities to expand their food businesses.

The two-day meeting (the delegation arrived Tuesday) was organized by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. The idea was to bring successful food executives here to assess what might be possible with Pueblo’s local farm economy and the needs of the community.

“Pueblo’s East Side should not be a food desert,” said Mark Retzloff, chairman of Natural Habitats, a Colorado company. “Not with all the food produced here.”

That was a reference to Safeway closing its East Side store two years ago, shutting down that region of the city’s only sizable grocery store and pharmacy.

But getting food from the fields to the store shelves is a big step, no matter how close the farms are, Robb added.

So that’s going to be one of the challenges as the business delegation meets with local producers on Wednesday.

Robb said he’s already defied expectations by opening Whole Foods groceries in ghetto neighborhoods in Detroit, Chicago and Newark.

“As a business, we’ve been focusing on that connection between a community and its food system,” he said.

Whole Foods has already made one change to benefit Pueblo — the company now gets its chiles from this region, not New Mexico.

On the agenda for Wednesday’s meetings are discussions and visits with chip makers, local farmers, food packagers and processors.

Robb may not be the chief executive of Whole Foods any longer, but a number of the company’s top people are coming to Pueblo to participate.

“We’re taking stock of the situation,” he said.

Bennet will not be here for the meetings but his spokesman said, “This project presents a unique opportunity to put food to work for positive community and economic growth—and there’s no better place to launch it than Pueblo.

(Senator Bennet) is looking forward to continue working with leaders across Pueblo, from agriculture to education, to empower the community as they build an innovative food economy.”