View Full Version : Customers call for Whole Foods boycott

August 23rd, 2009, 01:51 PM
Customers call for Whole Foods boycott
From BBC

It's the shop where wealthy American liberals buy their groceries.

But the American supermarket chain Whole Foods Market has found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy after its chief executive, John Mackey, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal presenting a free market alternative to President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms.

Mr Mackey began his article with a quote from Margaret Thatcher and went on to add that Americans do not have an intrinsic right to healthcare - an idea strongly at odds with the views of a large proportion of Whole Foods' customer base.

The company, which has 270 stores in North America and the UK, sells organic vegetables, biodegradable washing powder and sustainable seafood to a well-heeled clientele and champions its liberal credentials.

Customer protests

It is hypocritical and disingenuous and it really cheapens the brand
Emily Goulding, customer

Former Whole Foods devotees responded to Mr Mackey's article by picketing outside branches of the store in Washington DC, Maryland, New York and Austin, Texas.

Others stormed Twitter and Facebook to vent their rage and called on shoppers to boycott the store.

Russell Mokhiber led picketers outside Whole Foods' P Street store in Washington DC. He said, "I have been a Whole Foods customer for many years but I, like many former customers, am disgusted by John Mackey's stance on healthcare."

Representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) labour union also picketed outside the Washington store.
Protestors outside Washington DC store
Protesters said they were disgusted by John Mackey's views on healthcare

"Mackey's views are totally at odds with those of the company - he has to go," said UFCW spokesperson Mark Federici.

Outside the store, customers Emily Goulding and Ileana Abreu said the controversy had made them think twice about shopping there.

"It is hypocritical and disingenuous and it really cheapens the brand," said Ms Goulding.

"Whole Foods is expensive but people shop here because they identify with the social conscience of the company - now it turns out that ethos was just a marketing exercise," added Ms Abreu.

Response criticised

Seemingly caught off-guard by the unfolding PR crisis, Whole Foods sought to distance itself from its chief executive's comments.

"We've had a lot of emails and phone calls and people coming into our stores to talk about it," said Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods. "Our top priority is addressing their concerns."
Mark Rosenthal
Mark Rosenthal has set up a "Boycott Whole Foods" page on Facebook

But public relations experts criticised the store for bungling its response.

"You have two choices: you either take a proactive approach and wade right in and sort it out or you sit back and wait," said Erica Iacono, executive editor of industry magazine PR Week. "The company seems to be taking a wait and see approach and hoping it goes away. It's a mistake."

Massachusetts-based playwright Mark Rosenthal's "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page has so far attracted 24,738 fans, including supporters in the UK and Canada.

Rosenthal said, "I read the article and it stunned me, the hubris of this man who has made his millions selling his products to progressives in America based on an image of caring for the community."

Damage limitation

John Mackey, who started with a single store in Texas in 1980 and has built a company worth $3.8bn (£2.3bn) on the Nasdaq stock exchange, has previously described himself as a free market libertarian.
Whole Foods Market store
Experts say the Whole Foods brand is strong enough to weather the storm

Responding to the healthcare controversy in his Whole Foods blog, Mr Mackey said, "I gave my personal opinions... [the] company has no official position on the issue."

As part of their damage limitation strategy, Whole Foods' in-house public relations division has created a forum on its website for customers to discuss the issue. There are nearly 17,000 posts, compared with 63 posts on the dairy-free forum.

Some posts were scathing in their criticism of Mr Mackey but others defended the right of the controversial boss to express his views. One respondent said, "Bravo John Mackey! Finally we hear the voice of reason. I plan to start shopping in your store in protest at this liberal lunacy."

I would urge customers to keep the big picture in mind when they are deciding whether or not to boycott the store
Libba Letton, Whole Foods spokeswoman

The controversy has come at a bad time for Whole Foods which is struggling to grow its sales during the recession.

Dubbed "whole paycheque" by customers on account of high prices in-store, Whole Foods' share price is currently $28, more than 60% below its all-time high at the end of 2005.

Strong brand

Mr Mackey is known for his directness. He was recently quoted in a newspaper saying that as well as healthy, organic produce, "we sell a bunch of junk", a remark reminiscent of Gerald Ratner's 1992 comment that an item sold in his British jewellery chain was "total crap".

The brand is strong enough to bounce back, predicted Iain Ellwood, head of consulting at global branding consultancy Interbrand. "They need to focus the public's attention back on the company's core principles as a community-based brand," he said.

Carol Kramer drove from Virginia to Washington DC to join the protests

Whole Foods' Libba Letton attempted to do just that, calling on customers to remember the grocer's long history in supporting sustainability and organic farming, food and nutritional labelling, and ethical treatment of animals.

"I would urge customers to keep the big picture in mind when they are deciding whether or not to boycott the store," she said.

Opinion was divided outside the P Street branch in Washington. While many customers entered the store undeterred by the controversy, some left empty-handed, vowing to shop elsewhere.

Teacher Carol Kramer had driven from Virginia to take part in the protest. She said, "There are a lot of people out there who really invested in the Whole Foods brand, emotionally and financially. We are feeling really betrayed."

August 23rd, 2009, 04:39 PM
I with it. I think the guy made some poorly thought out points in a rather offensive way. No matter how Whole Foods tries to spin it as "Mackey's personal comments", he is ultimately the face and frontman for Whole Foods.

The more interesting facet of the story is all of the disturbing facts about the company and its actual business practices versus the perception of the community.

I've been very rigid in observing a boycott of Walmart and doing the same with Whole Foods will be no problem.

August 23rd, 2009, 05:11 PM
I don't shop in there anyway.

Too damn expensive, and organically-grown food is no healthier than regularly-grown food anyway. :(

August 23rd, 2009, 06:16 PM
From Wiki:

Organic foods are made according to certain production standards. For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as organic; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. This more recent style of production is referred to as "conventional," though organic production has been the convention for a much greater period of time.

Under organic production, the use of conventional non-organic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is greatly restricted and saved as a last resort. However, contrary to popular belief, certain non-organic fertilizers are still used.

If livestock are involved, they must be reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones, and generally fed a healthy diet. In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food[1]. The Soil Association (UK) has been the first organic certifier to implement a nano-exclusion[2].

Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry, distinct from private gardening. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market food as "organic" within their borders. Most certifications allow some chemicals and pesticides to be used, so consumers should be aware of the standards for qualifying as "organic" in their respective locales.

Historically, organic farms have been relatively small family-run farms[3] — which is why organic food was once only available in small stores or farmers' markets. However, since the early 1990s organic food production has had growth rates of around 20% a year, far ahead of the rest of the food industry, in both developed and developing nations. As of April 2008, organic food accounts for 1–2% of food sales worldwide.

August 23rd, 2009, 06:23 PM
Ah, Whole Foods, my very first job!

But as BK stated: It is silly to put your opinion in a paper, that will go against the views of the store's target shoppers.

August 23rd, 2009, 07:07 PM
I don't shop in there anyway.

Too damn expensive, and organically-grown food is no healthier than regularly-grown food anyway. :(

Organic 'has no health benefits'
From BBC

More than 50 studies were included in the review

Organic food is no healthier than ordinary food, a large independent review has concluded.

There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.

The Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the report, said the findings would help people make an "informed choice".

But the Soil Association criticised the study and called for better research.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years.

Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review
Peter Melchett, Soil Association

Among the 55 of 162 studies that were included in the final analysis, there were a small number of differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally produced food but not large enough to be of any public health relevance, said study leader Dr Alan Dangour.

Overall the report, which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs.

Differences that were detected, for example in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, were most likely to be due to differences in fertilizer use and ripeness at harvest and are unlikely to provide any health benefit, the report concluded.

The review did not look at pesticides or the environmental impact of different farming practices.

Gill Fine, FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health, said: "Ensuring people have accurate information is absolutely essential in allowing us all to make informed choices about the food we eat.

"This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food.

"What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food."

She added that the FSA was neither pro- nor anti-organic food and recognised there were many reasons why people choose to eat organic, including animal welfare or environmental concerns.

Organic food is just another scam to grab more money from us
Ishkandar, London

Read your comments here

Dr Dangour, said: "Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

He added that better quality studies were needed.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said they were disappointed with the conclusions.

"The review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.

"Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not 'important', due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods.

"Without large-scale, longitudinal research it is difficult to come to far-reaching clear conclusions on this, which was acknowledged by the authors of the FSA review.

"Also, there is not sufficient research on the long-term effects of pesticides on human health," he added.

August 23rd, 2009, 07:19 PM
Tobacco companies have long made the same claims ("not enough data") about the stuff in their products.

God made man make the chemicals and fertilizers and additives and all that stuff the purveyors of foodstuffs want us to put in out bodies.

They must be OK.

August 23rd, 2009, 07:22 PM
The argument for me is about taste.

From my experience, industralized fruit, vegetables and meat are inferior to those raised by small local farmers. If it happens to be organically grown... that's a plus. Forget WholeFoods: support local farmers markets if you can.

If fruit and vegetables are fresh, locally grown, and in season... the taste and texture is better ... and you'll tend to eat more of them: that is the heath benefit.

I'm sitting here thinking about the black figs, the small yellow pears and small black/blue grapes that I'll find in the market for breakfast tomorrow morning.

August 23rd, 2009, 07:30 PM
I never shop in Whole Foods. I always knew it was really selling a bunch of baloney, the 'social consciousness" company BS.

It's a corporate behemoth like any other. Run by cold-blooded capitalist swine like any other.

I go to Stiles vegetable market in midtown for my produce, and the ethnic stores of Astoria for my groceries.


August 24th, 2009, 09:45 AM
WHole foods is a crock. They put $$ into presentation and get $$$ back in profit, like many other places (Amish (oxymoronic) Market).

I do not agree with what the owner said, and I think it was blatantly stupid on his part (like a Vegetarian Food Chain owner being spotted eating a Hamburger), but what this stance on HEALTH CARE has to do with his food and his product is beyond me.

The only tie, which nobody has even researched (as far as I know) is any financial support he may be giving to opposition positions to health care reform. Whether that be campaign contributions, advertisments, or donations to opposing organizations.

Protesting a mans opinion seems really hyocritical and petty. You are allowed to disagree, but what does that have to do with the product he is selling (other than any possible connection I have mentioned)?

As for Organic... I get a little wary about that. Dung is natural, and fertalizing with that is one possible source for the E-coli infestations of lettuce a while back. "Organic" does not always mean "clean".

It also does not mean seasonal. You can grow tings organically and follow similar processes to get it cross-country. Tomatoes would be a good example. They pick them green and ship them because they are less likely to bruise or spoil on the way. By the time they get to the store , they have "ripened", but they still are not the same....

The things I do NOT like about some of the food engineering these days are when they focus on the appearance and shelf-life of a new strain rather than the TASTE. We get greener peppers and redder tomatoes, but they end up tasting bland. We get HUGE strawberries that have no zip to them anymore.

But that is what the American People buy with almost everything in life. Good looking produce with very little taste.

August 24th, 2009, 10:35 AM
But that is what the American People buy with almost everything in life. Good looking produce with very little taste.
Exactly. American people have got no taste.

(wouldn't have dared say that myself.)

August 24th, 2009, 11:12 AM
I go to Stiles vegetable market in midtown for my produce, and the ethnic stores of Astoria for my groceries.
BOYCOTT WHOLE FOODS!When I visit the old nabe in Brooklyn, I get produce at a Russian market next door to a car wash. Was once a carpentry or furniture shop.

Fresh and really cheap. There's probably a gulag-farm in Jersey.

August 24th, 2009, 12:09 PM
WF sales are flat anyway.

August 24th, 2009, 12:35 PM
Also, they don't pay their workers very well either, but they want you to work like you're getting paid $20 per hour!

And even if the food IS EVER proven to be more beneficial healthwise, I STILL wouldn't buy it.

Docs & nutristionist tell us to eat this kind of produce because it is supposedly better for us, but if you're on a limited buget like me and your money only comes once a month like mine, then how is anyone supposed to afford this so-called more healthy food? :mad:

August 24th, 2009, 02:51 PM
You cancel Cable TV, your XBL subscription, get the cheapest cell phone plan, and cook for yourself.

But that is not a good answer since nobody wants to hear it...

August 24th, 2009, 05:42 PM
What planet are you living on? The food still has to be BOUGHT before it can be cooked.

If you think that your advise might be good for others, then why don't you try it first? Practice what you preach.

It's called freedom of choice. I don't have to shop there if I don't want to!
It's MY money, and I'll shop for groceries wherever I choose to. And you're right; It's NOT a good answer, and I DON'T want to hear it. :rolleyes:

August 24th, 2009, 06:14 PM
nobody wants to hear it...Well, there ya go.

August 24th, 2009, 06:49 PM
Rather than boycott: Why don't folks simply arrive at the local WF en masse and then chow down at the salad bar / prepared food section. Eat it all up and then just walk out the door. The whole gang would leave sated and, at the same time, keep a sizable chunk of cash from ending up in WF CE Mackey's pocket.

Of course if you hate their food or need to limit your intake of sodium then this might not be a good option.

August 24th, 2009, 07:26 PM
They have a sign that says 'Please do not sample from the food bar'. ;)

August 24th, 2009, 08:09 PM
Well, we're talking about (somewhat) civil disobedience.

You're not supposed to follow the rules of the one that's being dis-obeyed.

August 25th, 2009, 05:50 PM
I've been trying very hard to live by the philosophy "Shop Local".

I am lucky enough to have a car, so I take advantage of hitting farm stands in Jersey for fresh (and very, very cheap) produce in the summer and fall. I also try to shop the Green Markets around town, but, even amongst that crowd, you have to look for misrepresentations.

I like Fairway (local company) and Trader's Joe's.

August 26th, 2009, 06:45 AM
Bananas gone bad at Whole Foods.


August 26th, 2009, 07:02 AM
Ha !

August 26th, 2009, 08:03 AM
Zippy, you're sick! :D :p

August 26th, 2009, 04:15 PM
*rant alert*

The only NYC greenmarket I've been to is the one in Union Square. It's an interesting visual experience but I would never shop there. The prices seem more jacked up than at Food Emporium (and that's really jacked!!).

Excuse me, but aren't farmer's markets supposed to be where you go for a deal, prices cheaper than at Food Emporium, Whole Foods, or the other thieving food stores?

Hell no...the concept of bargains at a farmer's market is another thing that just gets lost in the New York translation. Here, the prices are actually higher at the farmer's market! (unless you go to Stiles, the only real deal on produce in Manhattan). It's all backwards!

The farmers probably go home at night and laugh at all the stupid city folks they just robbed...$3.99 a pound for some gawd-damned tomatoes ought to be a crime, and don't get me started on the precious loaves of $5.00 bread...or the jars of honey hand squeezed out of an organic honeybee's bum. :rolleyes::rolleyes:
The whole Union Square "greenmarket" is just too damned precious.

August 26th, 2009, 05:11 PM
Beyond that, it's a total zoo in regards to trying to get through from point A to B. I'm hoping it will get better once the renovations are finished.

August 26th, 2009, 05:46 PM
Wow, it seems like getting fresh fruits and veggies, is tough in the City.

Thank God, I live only a few blocks away from the Paterson Farmers Market.

Not only is the produce is good, but is super cheap. (http://www.northjersey.com/community/family/50187487.html)

August 26th, 2009, 08:59 PM
Back in the stone age, produce in NY was HORRIBLE. Then the Korean grocers moved in and upped the game.

August 26th, 2009, 11:59 PM
... It's all backwards!

... honey hand squeezed out of an organic honeybee's bum.

Backwards indeed. Are you sure that's where it comes from?

August 27th, 2009, 01:14 AM
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1072/is-honey-really-bee-vomit (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1072/is-honey-really-bee-vomit)

August 27th, 2009, 03:19 AM
well, admittedly I took some writer's creative license with that one:D

August 27th, 2009, 12:14 PM
Bananas gone bad at Whole Foods.

Now it has invaded the candy aisle!

August 27th, 2009, 01:37 PM
1992: Whole Foods Market, Inc. buys Bread and Circus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses) of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

August 27th, 2009, 01:57 PM
well, admittedly I took some writer's creative license with that one :D

It's a fascinating little life in the hive (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1072/is-honey-really-bee-vomit):

Did you know that proportionally to its body size, the genitalia of a drone bee are among the largest of any animal on earth? Mention this to the girls over bridge and you'll definitely get the conversation off Tupperware.

The size of its equipment is thought to be directly related to the drone's post-coital fate, namely death. My bee book notes, "[the genitals] are contained in the abdomen and presumably getting them out of the abdomen for the purpose of mating places such a strain on [the bee] that it dies in the process." As I understand it, the proximate cause of the drone's demise is that its privates are (urk) ripped off during the act. One more reason for caution, boys, when we are fumbling in the dark.

August 27th, 2009, 06:00 PM
re: markets and the rest:

When I lived in NYC I think I prepared food maybe once. It was probably during a blizzard-of-the-century or something. I may have had a can of tuna and a stray packet of duck sauce.

There is so much take-out and order-in and so many cheap ethnic places. It's already such a chore living in NYC if you work everyday... I think it knocks out any desire to cook on a regular basis.

I love good food and love to cook and do so nearly everyday, but the culture here really supports that ... if I lived in NYC, I don't think I'd be so concerned.

August 27th, 2009, 08:32 PM
But prepared food -- almost all of it, whether from a store, deli or restaurant -- has tons of sodium in it.

Eat it on a daily basis and be forewarned.

I inquired once at WF about their prepared food and was surprised to learn from the manager that none of it is geared towards low sodium, low fat diets.

Home prepared food from fresh veggies, fruit + protein is a whole different menu.

Not that I don't love somebody coming to my door with a bag of ready-to-eats now and then ...

August 28th, 2009, 02:32 AM
Ain't THAT the truth?!

You hit the nail right on the head, Lofter1!!

So all their claims about so-called healthy foods went right down the toilet with that one!

August 28th, 2009, 08:37 AM
Single-Payer Health Care Advocates Picket Whole Foods

By Sewell Chan AND Jennifer 8. Lee

Whole Foods The grand-opening ceremony of a new Whole Foods store
on the Upper West Side was the subject of picketing by advocates
for a single-payer health care system.

The opening of a new Whole Foods store on the Upper West Side on Thursday has been interpreted in various ways. Some people in the neighborhood welcome the wide selection of expensive groceries and organic items that the upscale supermarket chain represents. Others bemoan the continuing gentrification of the neighborhood, noting that the new store was inserted into the middle-income Park West Village complex over protests from many residents.

To these various views on the store, add another: About 50 protesters picketed outside the store — at 97th Street and Columbus Avenue — on Thursday, around the start of its 14-hour grand-opening ceremony (which began at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to end at 10 p.m.).

The protesters were outraged by an Aug. 11 opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal, in which John Mackey, the chairman and chief executive of Whole Foods, based in Austin, Tex., criticized President Obama’s health care proposals.

“The last thing our country needs is a massive new health care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health care system,” Mr. Mackey wrote.

Josh Starcher, an organizer with Single Payer Action, which organized the Upper West Side protest, said that his group, which advocates universal health insurance access, will also picket the Whole Foods store at Columbus Circle on Friday.

“Our intention is to keep going,” Mr. Starcher said, adding, “We don’t feel that the high-deductible, low-premium plans, they don’t solve the problems of health care.”

Adding to the public relations problem for Whole Foods, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has tried unsuccessfully to organize workers at the grocery chain, has called for Mr. Mackey’s resignation, as has the Change to Win federation of unions, of which the food workers’ union is a part.

Whole Foods, for its part, has distanced itself somewhat from its chief’s statements. The company issued a statement that said, in part:
While Whole Foods Market has no official companywide position on the health care reform issue, we would not want our very successful and sustainable health care coverage to be jeopardized. Our C.E.O. submitted an opinion piece last week with the intention of expressing his own viewpoints and providing constructive ideas to support reform, as President Obama invited America to do. We have heard from individuals who both agree and disagree with John’s ideas as there are many opinions and emotions surrounding the ongoing health care reform issue, including lots of differing views here inside of Whole Foods Market. We appreciate those diverse perspectives but it is unfortunate there is misinformation and confusion out there to cloud John’s good intentions.

August 28th, 2009, 09:06 AM
We need a single payer food system. In a country as "rich" as this, access to food should be a right. Food is a necessity, and it is immoral that people such as the despicable Whole Foods CEO are making a profit from it.

August 28th, 2009, 09:11 AM
Oh c'mon Jasonik.

August 28th, 2009, 09:25 AM
Why do you want to deny access to healthy food based on income?

August 28th, 2009, 09:53 AM
We need a single payer food system. In a country as "rich" as this, access to food should be a right. Food is a necessity, and it is immoral that people such as the despicable Whole Foods CEO are making a profit from it.

Why do you want to deny access to healthy food based on income?
Jasonik, the socialist? Jasonik, the Marxist?

Jasonik of the bleeding heart?

(btw, I agree.)

August 28th, 2009, 10:11 AM
Farmers and bakers should be as police and firefighters and growing and hoarding food by civilians harshly punished -- and being overweight will be proof of the crime of over-consumption.

August 28th, 2009, 12:29 PM
^ And does this get done by Government? Or its agents?

August 28th, 2009, 12:32 PM
I don't work that way Jason.