AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- To teach the art of butchery and continue to honor an age-old profession, Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) is launching an in-store Meat Apprenticeship Program for its team members. The intensive 18-month training program is designed to transform aspiring butchers into skilled meat cutters with a deep understanding of the company's high standards for quality, animal welfare, food safety, sanitation and commitment to retail excellence. "For decades, neighborhood butchers were linchpins in American communities – shoppers' trusted guides to selecting the best meat for their families and their budgets," said Theo Weening, global meat coordinator for Whole Foods Market. "With today's meat processing facilities, butchers are being taken out of the equation and people are more disconnected than ever with food. Our shoppers want to know where their meat comes from, how the animal was raised and how to prepare it. No one is better equipped to meet those needs than a classically-trained butcher." Cultivating Rare Talent The 18-month program is both hands-on and academic. Apprentices will learn how to prepare all cuts of meat from all species, master the art of merchandising and receive culinary training on meat preparation and cooking techniques that they can pass along to shoppers. Team members will have ample practice time to fully develop their skills and will be tested via cutting exams, meat sanitation audits, customer service exercises and more. By the end of the program, apprentices will be able to break down meat without sacrificing its integrity and be ready to assist shoppers with any request. "Many of our top team members are third or fourth generation butchers who grew up in the trade and have spent a lifetime mastering their craft," said Weening. "We're fortunate that these experts are eager to pass their knowledge on to a new generation who will keep this old-world craft alive and offer second-to-none customer service at our meat counters."