Whole Foods: The Whole Truth

In the previous blog, Ryan raised some interesting points about Whole Foods, highlighting the recent scrutiny and negative media attention that has surrounded this trendy grocery store chain. He brings up two very different, yet equally concerning dilemmas: Whole Foods is misleading customers by marking the wrong price for pre-packaged items, and allowing for inmate laborers to provide fish and cheese to Whole Foods locations around the nation. Do their methods necessarily taint the quality of their product? How much of their image is truly at stake? I seek to expose the other side of the argument.

At first, employees at Whole Foods were wrongly marking weighted products, allowing for overpricing of $1 to even $15. However, only nine of its four hundred twenty-five stores were caught wrongly labeling these pre-packaged items. However, this does not account for the potential of other Whole Foods locations acting similarly and not getting caught, but only around 2% of stores were affected. Is the problem that serious to receive such negative media attention? Whole Foods markets itself as being a higher-end, trendy organic and sustainable grocery chain, so the wrongful marking of such products could simply be an honest mistake from any employee. On July 1, 2015, the CEO’s of Whole Foods made a public apology covered by ABC News. Ultimately, they stated employees were making a simple error (just as WSJ claimed in its article), and the pricing flaw sometimes favored the customer. Not only did they publicly announce their mistakes, they hired an auditor and vowed to give items for free if the weights were mislabeled. With this tactic, they are placing a secondary audit in the hands of the customer; it is now the customer’s duty to verify the correct weight. The Whole Foods mislabeling scandal hurt the company short-term (stock price decreased 11%), but the products remained untainted and customers kept flooding into stores nationwide. Moreover, this scandal merely helped Whole Foods retrain employees while keeping quality constant.

Secondly, mixed perspectives on hiring inmates surfaced in 2015. Several people were upset and disappointed in Whole Foods for having a direct connection to employing prisoners; inmates ultimately provided fish and cheese for stores. The wage was only $.60 a day, but the job taught prisoners lessons beyond the pay; prisoners learned of work ethic, work skills, and were often paid higher than prison laborers. However, individuals emphasize one specific argument (as outlined in the Vice News article): Cheap labor allows prisons and companies an advantage over those paying minimum wage because of less-suitable working conditions with lower pay. However, the argument and story seem to fade away, as all products through the prison labor program are to be removed from stores by April 2016. The local news video details the prison inmate program providing products for Wholes Foods from 2011-2016.

Ultimately, two very recent and highly publicized events of Whole Foods swirled around the media. However, it seems as though both problems are solved, eliminating the need for potential solutions. Both situations could have been avoided, but the outsourcing of labor and mislabeling of product weights does not tarnish the image and brand of Whole Foods. Very few consumers, if any, will change their buying habits based on the prior actions of Whole Foods. Would you hold Whole Foods accountable? In short, would you change your buying habits?



4 thoughts on “Whole Foods: The Whole Truth

  1. As a regular Whole Foods goer, I have to say I was surprised to read some of Whole Foods labor practices and price markups. For a company that portrays itself as wholesome and family friendly, providing quality level food, the idea of hiring inmates bothered me at first. But as you mentioned, maybe using inmates to supply fish and cheese isn’t so bad in the overall scheme of CSR. By teaching inmates ethics and work skills, maybe Whole Foods is actually contributing to society as a whole. I definitely think that Whole Foods handled the markup price situation in the best way possible, offering reimbursement to those they ripped off and making a public apology. This is probably why the company has such high brand loyalty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked your use of sources within your blog post, it was nice to see a mix of major publications as well as smaller ones. Also I think you pose a great question at the end of your post, questioning whether or not consumers will change their buying habits, As you mentioned nothing has clearly changed so far for Whole Foods, over what is arguably a fairly large scandal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It seems that in the past couple years the media has began to jump on any event that would cause a person or a corporation negative publicity. Overall, I agree that both of the issues raised about Whole Foods were pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. When you compare these issues to the issues of Nike and Apple, it puts the severity into perspective. I don’t believe consumers will change their buying habits, because in other situations that were much worse (Nike and Apple) consumers didn’t change their buying habits. So why would they change that now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At first, I was quite surprised and bothered to hear that a family friendly, high quality company like Whole Foods was hiring inmates and marking up their prices. However, after reading this, I completely agree that nothing they did was a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I also really liked the point you made about teaching the act of hiring inmates actually teaching them about good work ethic and skills as it shifted my perspective of the issue from a negative one to a fairly positive one for society.

    Liked by 1 person

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