Back in 2007, Whole Foods Hillcrest teamed up with a couple of local wineries to produce a blend exclusive to the store. But it’s only recently that the Team Member/Local Producer Collaboration Program really got propelled forward, thanks to local specialist Carolyn Kates. She rebooted the project with a vanilla blossom soy candle from Aroma Naturals and challenged, okay, encouraged team members in different departments to partner with their local producers. The result is a collection of seven products unique to the Hillcrest store made by Jackie’s Jams, Sweet Cheeks Baking Company, Bella Vado Avocado Oil, Viva Pops, Chuao Chocolatier, and Caffe Calabria.
Kudos to Kates. Many of the products have become store best sellers and when she made a presentation to owner John Mackey, she won the Southern Pacific Region Innovation Award for the idea and its implementation. Here are the products you should seek out at the Hillcrest store. You won’t find them anywhere else. All sport a special black-and-white label saying Hillcrest Team Member & Local Producer Collaboration.
Jackie’s Jam Blueberry-Cranberry Jam
Not too sweet; not too sour. This jam is just right with a dominant blueberry flavor (from locally grown blueberries), rich purple color, and smooth texture. It’ll be perfect with a blue cheese platter, spread on brioche toast (you can find a loaf at the Whole Foods in-house bakery), or accompanying pancakes. $6.49 for an eight-ounce jar
Viva Pops Tricolor Pop
Anything Viva Pops owner Lisa Altmann makes is more than fine by me. This 3-Tier Citrus Pop sports lavender lemonade, blood orange, and mojito layers using local ingredients that include blood orange juice, lemon juice, and lime juice from local farmers, mint, and lavender. Together they add up to a refreshing summer pop, perfect for the next heat wave. $3.49 a pop
Sweet Cheeks Pound Cake
Be careful with these two pound cakes. They’re totally addictive. The Orange-Thyme Pound Cake sounds a little weird, but oh does it work. The citrus flavors are magical with fragrant fresh thyme leaves. And, it’s vegan—not that you’d notice. Then there’s the Lemon-Blueberry Pound Cake, studded with heaps of fresh blueberries. I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow. A slice with Caffee Calabria’s special blend coffee will be the best way to start the day. $6.99 a loaf or $1.99 a slice at the self serve section of the bakery
Chuao Chocolatier Spice Fruit and Nut Bark
Chuao was one of the first local chocolatiers and certainly is the biggest. But they remain loyal to their San Diego roots and have created a stunning milk chocolate bar for the Hillcrest store. It’s packed with dried figs and cranberries, walnuts, raisins, cherries, orange peel, almond slices, and spices that include cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Every bite is an adventure and it’s almost like a Christmas celebration in spring. $20.99 a pound
Bella Vado Garlic Avocado Oil
I am in awe of what owner Cid da Silva has accomplished in the last few years. His avocado oil has truly taken off and he’s been expanding his Valley Center farm and production facilities to keep up. I’ve long enjoyed his citrus variety, along with the original. Now we’ve got garlic and I couldn’t be happier. Da Silva presses the garlic with the avocados to get a pure flavor. You can use the oil in place of olive oil in sautéing, tossing with pasta, dipping, or in vinaigrettes. $9.99 for an 8.5-ounce bottle
Caffe Calabria Whole Foods Market Hillcrest Blend
Visiting Caffe Calabria in North Park is a treat. I love watching them roast the beans and then sipping the results. But you can also buy beans at Whole Foods and now the Hillcrest store has a special blend of Ethiopia and Guatemala Arabica beans that have a sweet aroma with notes of berries and dried fruit. Please, Arne, come up with a decaf version for those of us who can’t cope with a full arsenal of caffeine. $10.99 for a 12-ounce bag