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Are You Spending Your Money Wisely at Whole Foods? An Open Letter from an Organic Consumer


The integrity of WholeFoods Market is in question. Where you spend your money is a reflection of your values and your ethics. As a consumer, your money shapes business decisions because without your hard-earned cash, businesses cannot continue to operate. You have a lot of POWER to create good in our world, just by where you spend your money.

I say these things beause a situation arose just last week which shocked me. Until recently I was a WholeFoods shopper. I've probably spent $20,000 of my money there in the past 3 years. That was until last week, when I read a story which made me realise that corporate manipulation can happen anywhere.

Just prior to July 9th 2009, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) asked WholeFoods Market (WFM) and United Natural Foods (UNF) to cease undermining organic standards. The OCA claim that WFM and UNF were " promoting and selling mostly conventional products ( greenwashed as "Natural" ), instead of certified organic products ." 1

The OCA is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. It's a consumer pressure group and charity. Read more about their purpose and mission. They asked WFM and UNF to " begin to put pressure on their so-called "Natural" product suppliers to sign contracts with accredited certifiers and make the transition to organic." 1

This is a big request - however, it is a request, which any business can respond to or ignore.

Instead of ignoring it and getting on with their businesses, WFM and UNF " put the squeeze on a number of the OCA's advertisers." 1 These advertisers spent thousands of dollars advertising with the OCA and were also suppliers to WFM and UNF.

In other words, it is alleged that WholeFoods Market and United Natural Foods deliberately scared their suppliers by telling them, possibly in telephone conversations, that if they did not cease advertising with the OCA then they may need to find another retailer to sell their products. The result would be probable bankruptcy for these suppliers or they'd be bought out by the food processing corporations. The claimed intimidation has cost the OCA thousands of dollars in lost revenue.1 In other words, WFM and UNF apparently want to keep their "greenwashed" promotion methods and appear to have put pressure on some of their suppliers in order to keep the OCA quiet.

Why would multi-million dollar corporations behave in such a way? I decided to find out by asking WholeFoods Market's CEO, Dr. John Mackey his view of the OCA's accusations in an email sent to him on July 9th, 2009. My email said:

Dear Dr. John,

Having read the paragraphs below and the highlighted statement, I am dismayed at WholeFoods' alleged actions towards the OCA. If they were not true and could not be proven, why would the OCA risk the possibility of libel lawsuit?

If these statements are true, and WholeFoods has put pressure on some of the OCA's advertisers then these actions clearly demonstrate that WholeFoods Market, as a business, lacks integrity. As the head of the business, allowing this practice to occur would also be a reflection of your level of integrity, or your management abilities if these actions occured and you were unaware of them.

Speaking as a longstanding, loyal WholeFoods customer who has spends at least $10,000 a year at your stores, if these statements are true then I shall no longer be shopping at your stores. I shall also let everyone I know about this matter and encourage them to shop at your competitors who are also more ethical. Just 100 customers (who spend $200 weekly) going elsewhere would reduce WFM's gross income by $1,000,000 a year. Customers want integrity as well as affordable prices and healthy food because the three are united by a common mindset.

I would appreciate hearing your views Dr. John.

As of July 16th, I have received no reply from John Mackey, WFM's CEO. The email to him hasn't bounced back to me and I've received no out-of-office reply. What am I, as both a customer and nutrition professional to make of this? WFM doesn't have to reply to me that's for sure. However you'd think that they'd make some sort of response. 

If WFM don't reply to their customers in these instances, then it means that like any corporation, they are solely accountable to their shareholders. Shareholders want money, a return on their investment, which means that John Mackay and his leadership team will use whatever methods they can legally to increase profits. It's just so sad that ethics, integrity, and corporate responsibility may have gone out of the window in this instance.

The danger of this situaiton to WFM and UNF is that the people who purchase organic foods are educated and earn a good income. They are also individuals who will stand by their values and consider ethical behavior important. I don't possess all of the information and know nothing of the exact interactions between the OCA, WFM, and UNF. However, like you, I can make a difference just by where I chose to spend my money each week.


  1. Sign the Organic Consumer Association's petition to ask WholeFoods Market and United Natural Foods to adhere to improved marketing and promotion standards, and "cease undermining the future of organic food".
  2. Shop at other foods stores which sell organic food. These include Trader Joes, Sevananda, Return To Eden, Nuts n' Berries, Life Grocery and other suppliers in Georgia and around the country. Put your money in the hands of businesses which highly value ethical retailing and corporate responsibility. You might also find that you'll spend the same, or less too.

    1    Source: OCA Newsletter dated 9th July, 2009.
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