What can I say.....Wal-mart, Horizon, Dean....now Whole Foods
No surprises, I guess...mammon and all that, eh. Or maybe PT Barnum.
Whole Food Fight
by Derrick Z. Jackson
Just when I was about to praise fiddleheads, farmers markets, and the
joy of true freshness, along comes John Mackey.
Mackey is the chief executive officer of Whole Foods. The more
appropriate title should be Hole in the Wallet Foods. For years, it
charged premium prices for produce, meats, seafood, and poultry, not to
mention chocolate and chips, on the assumption that they were
delivering groceries more fresh and ecocorrect than traditional
My personal experience, with three Hole in the Wallets alone servicing
the People’s Republic of Cambridge, is that they deliver decent produce
decently enough to ignore the smoke rising from my credit card.
No more. Mackey is trying to turn Whole Foods into the Wal-Mart of
ecogroceries. He was unmasked this week as using a pseudonym to post
messages for seven years on the Internet trashing the market value and
competency of Wild Oats Markets. It happens that his company, which
raked in $5.6 billion of sales last year, is trying to buy Wild Oats
for $565 million.
The Federal Trade Commission is opposed to the purchase, saying it
would wipe out competition in that sector of the grocery industry. The
FTC says Mackey boasted to the Whole Foods board that buying Wild Oats
“means eliminating this threat forever, or almost forever.”
Just as annoying is the response of Whole Foods. Thus far it is
coddling the loopy ethical lapse of its CEO. Mackey has already posted
a lame defense of his behavior on the corporate website, blaming the
FTC for trying to “embarrass both me and Whole Foods.” The Wall Street
Journal, which broke the story earlier this week, reported yesterday,
“So far, there appear to be few other consequences. A big Whole Foods
investor said it was sticking by Mackey and, as of midafternoon, the
Whole Foods board hadn’t met to discuss the matter.”
Well, as the Whole Foods board sits in la-la land thinking that their
shiitakes don’t stink, I offer myself as the first consequence. I am
staging a one-man boycott.
I will spend the rest of the summer procuring my vegetables from places
other than Whole Foods, most preferably my local farmers market or
co-op. If there is ever a time to tell Hole in the Wallet to plug the
leak in its credibility, this is it. Besides, not even it can compete
with the explosive taste of locally grown strawberries and raspberries
that are bordeaux in color, blueberries and corn on the cob that
actually have juice inside, and tomatoes, oh, tomatoes!
I grow my own tomatoes, but the farmers market ones, being more
professionally grown, come earlier than mine. Anyone who has tasted a
locally grown tomato versus even the best offerings of Hole in the
Wallet know that the taste is like comparing a fruit bomb to an
Better still, if you do not like the term “boycott,” consider yourself
part of a movement. Americans have grown tired of the uncooked potato
taste of so many fruits grown around the world for our supermarkets,
just to give us the disappointing illusion of having a peach or
blueberry all year long. Americans are supporting farmers markets to
the degree that the number of them has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to
4,385, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
A study this year by researchers at Colorado State University found
that 30 percent of Americans now prefer to buy fresh produce from
farmers markets or direct from producers. Dawn Thilmany, the lead
author of the study, told the Fort Collins Coloradoan, “I think
everyone knew that farmers markets are popular because we see them
around, but the good news is, it’s kind of mainstream.”
The study found — bearing out why Whole Foods has been so successful —
that shoppers who go to farmers markets or otherwise purchase “direct”
are willing to pay 7 percent to 23 percent more for fruits and
vegetables that are locally grown, organic, or nutritionally superior.
In a press release, Thilmany said the growing popularity suggests that
consumers are developing “a strong connection to local food systems,”
inspiring small farmers to “explore unique varieties and cultivars of
fruits and vegetables.”
With Mackey mouthing off, there is no better time to strengthen local
connections and sever our ties with Whole Foods until we hear that
Mackey is disciplined or fired. He might be close to a monopoly on the
freshest commercial grown food. It will never be as sweet as the
strawberry from a farmer’s market.