Why I will never shop at Whole Foods again

Don’t get me wrong—I love lower-cased whole foods. But I don’t love Whole Foods. Here’s why:

There is a local grocery chain in Portland called New Seasons. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this store. Yes, the prices are higher than those at Kroger-owned chain Fred Meyer or (un)Safeway, but the food quality is excellent, the customer service is impeccable, the way they treat their employees is exceptional, and their commitment to strengthening community and our regional food economy goes above and beyond.

But now, as a result of the FTC’s ongoing suit against Whole Foods’ merger with Wild Oats, Whole Food’s council has subpoenaed New Seasons (and 92 other companies nationwide) for a variety of their confidential documents. From the NS blog:

As it turns out, because of their legal dispute with the FTC, Whole Foods has an opportunity to try and force us to give them copies of some of our most confidential financial records—for instance what our sales are, week by week, at each of our stores. They’ve also demanded all of our files that detail our strategic plans, all of our marketing plans and all of our studies about where we are considering opening new store.

Whole Foods maintains that their request has nothing to do with squelching New Seasons, a locally-owned private company with 9 locations, but rather is necessary to prove the existence of competition in the natural foods industry. They claim that no one employed by Whole Foods will look at the documents—only their “outside lawyer”—but New Seasons has good reason not to trust that. Again, from their blog (different post):

This is exactly same promise that was made last time files were subpoenaed in this case. Unfortunately, in the middle of that round, Whole Foods filed an amended motion to allow their “inside lawyer” to see the confidential information. They claimed that even though this “inside lawyer” was an employee of Whole Foods and was on their “Leadership Team,” it was okay for her to see everyone else’s private data because she wasn’t engaged in “competitive decision making.” Obviously, we’re very worried that might happen again.

Even the Oregonian agrees. From a December 3 editorial: “Nothing about Whole Foods’ behavior so far suggests that this is a benign request for onformation [sic]. Rather, it is a nakedly anticompetitive maneuver intended to hamstring its strongest rival in the Portland area.”

And! Get this! The FTC issued a report last year (PDF) containing emails that Whole Foods executives had sent regarding Wild Oats (via the NS blog):

“Wild Oats needs to be removed from the playing field…”

“…[m]y goal is simple – I want to crush them and am willing to spend a lot of money in the process.”

“…elimination of a competitor in the marketplace, competition for sites, competition for acquisitions, and operational economies of scale. We become the Microsoft of the natural foods industry.”

Ugh. I have always hated Whole Paycheck (as my mother likes to call it). It feels like a big scam cloaked in a false sense of environmental stewardship and feigned community support. Well. What a surprise! That’s exactly what it is.

5 thoughts on “Why I will never shop at Whole Foods again

  1. “Ew…” meaning, damn, I always thought Wild Oats was kind of sleazy, but this really takes the cake. Fortunately, I never liked the Whole Foods vibe anyway…

  2. Thank you, MDIC.
    I always had a sense that WF was not quite what it seemed, but I attributed that to their being a big national chain, which I tend to distrust anyway. This certainly ratchets my low-level unease up a few hundred notches.

  3. Nice rant. As soon as you told me about that whole thing I wanted to show my support for New Seasons in a desperate attempt to help our local company. I’ve had three friends who’ve worked for them and each one of them really love their jobs. One works in the deli, one in the flower department, and one’s an IT person. Working in a deli is never super interesting, but New Seasons offers health insurance and fair wages. And you know, the people who work there are always super nice and helpful. Except once I asked one of their wine steward’s about a sixteen dollar bottle of wine.
    “How is it?” I asked.
    “Oh. I haven’t tried it, ” she said. “I can’t afford it.”

  4. I had no idea about this. I know nothing of the legalities but dang! That is just bogus. I cannot see the reverse flying were it demanded likewise.

    We don’t have a Whole Foods close and the Wild Oats is over an hour away. But we do have a local Co-Op that is wonderful. Tiny but great. While I don;t think Whole foods will be targeting the chicken wing cheese food belt any time soon, it is disturbing to think that our tiny store would be threatened ever.

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