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?