Whole Foods Boycott Picks Up Steam (Guest Voice)

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EDITOR’S NOTE:
In the past we ran a line about Guest Voice posts not necessarily representing the opinion of TMV or its writers. But after we ran many Guest Voice columns by conservative talk show host Michael Reagan (whose posts we run usually once a week from Cagle Cartoons), liberals, moderates etc. we felt it wasn’t necessary to run that line at the top anymore. However, a reader now says this is post is being described as TMV’s endorsing the boycott. WRONG. It is a G-u-e-s-t V-o-i-c-e post from another writer by from another blog. We thought that was self evident but to new readers: Guest Voice posts are just that. This does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of TMV’s many writers or the site itself just as Michael Reagon’s posts do not necessarily represent the site. And with our variety of writers, no one take on an event done by a TMV writer represents the site’s “position.” To those still confused, kindly read the description of this site above. Also see my own comment below since that is also being mis-stated.

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Whole Foods Boycott Picks Up Steam

by Richard Blair

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey shot his company in the face the other day with an anti-health care op-ed screed in the Wall Street Journal. He’s managed to piss off his company’s core demographic: liberals and progressives, and in the process, enabled a boycott that could actually work.

There is no doubt that boycotting Whole Foods would be a difficult proposition for many latte-sipping, Volvo-driving libruls. After all, where else are we going to spend hard earned grocery money for a $25 steak or a $10 pound of fair trade coffee?

The thing is, when Rupuert Murdoch published an anti-health care security op-ed from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a few progressive latte drinkers decided they didn’t need to buy their arugula at Whole Foods anymore, and called for a boycott. After all, the big marketing gimmick for Whole Foods is that they’re a socially responsible company which sells food that is actually good for you (even if the products are very over priced).

As of today, the boycott is really picking up some steam.

(UPDATE: Whole Foods is now reportedly sending an email apology to customers who contact them, arguing the op-ed piece was not anti healtcare reform.)

While I don’t normally support boycotts (for the most part, I don’t think they’re terribly well organized or impactful), this one is different, and I do believe it can be very effective. Here’s why:

Whole Foods has always marketed itself to a fairly educated and financially secure customer base. This is why they can successfully sell healthy (and primarily organic) foods, at a higher cost. The company has also fostered the image that it has an altruistic streak in supporting progressive causes.

With a single op-ed in an uber conservative national newspaper, this wholesome image has been blown to bits. In the course of writing 1,165 words, CEO Mackey has caused more potential damage to the Whole Foods corporate image than an e-coli outbreak in the meat room.

In calling for support of the boycott of Whole Foods, I’m making an educated guess that their average customer is very politically progressive in nature. And that is why, if liberals and progressives quit shopping at Whole Foods, the impact would be quickly apparent to the company’s Board of Directors. By quickly, I mean by this coming Monday morning when the weekend receipts are tallied.

I am all for freedom of speech. Mr. Mackey had every right to express his views on health care in the WSJ, even as anathema as those views might be to progressives. Similarly, we progressives have every right to decide whether or not we want to spend our food dollars in a store whose CEO clearly doesn’t support the most important progressive cause of the moment.

So, if you are a Whole Foods shopper, please consider honoring the boycott, at least for a short period of time. The impact will be very evident, and almost immediate.

On a lighter note, take a few minutes and read the Whole Foods website forums on this topic. The forums have been invaded by freepers and redstaters, with predictably resultant hilarity. If one was to believe the freepers, Whole Foods is going to have an entirely new demographic shopping in their stores. The only problem is: last I checked, Whole Foods doesn’t stock Coke, Cheetos, Armor hotdogs, or 365-brand Instant Grits.

Some links:

Join the Whole Foods boycott on Facebook
LA Times: Whole Foods is in a whole lot of trouble
Whole Foods boycott on Twitter

Richard Blair is an old school political activist and publisher of “All Spin Zone” (allspinzone.com). He is a frequent contributor to AlterNet and many other online forums. His altercation with Nancy Grace in 2005 spurred the national media to get involved with the investigation of LaToyia Figueroa’s murder in Philadelphia. This is cross-posted from his blog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This will be a setback for Whole Foods, particularly in California. Several years ago there was a major grocery store strike and worker/management feelings were bitter and there was picketing. Many customers who didn’t want to cross a picket line, didn’t like the situation or felt “their’ store were not stocked sufficiently “discovered” Whole Foods, Henry’s (a highly popular small competitor owned by Wild Oats, which Whole Foods bought but it quickly sold off Henry’s to the company that owns Smart and Final), and Trader Joe’s. These chains picked up LOTS of loyal customers — and many stayed with them. California supermarkets have been cutting prices, offering specials and doing all kinds of things to regain those shoppers ever since. Some did come back but others continued to put a lot of their food shopping dollars into….stores such as Whole Foods.

You can’t say that ALL of the store’s customers were Democrats, liberals, etc. But conservatives had mocked Barack Obama for of all things eating arugula — and Whole Foods typifies the mind-set of those who eat arugula and those who ask for arugula.

If you’ve never been there, Whole Foods is a wonderful health food, organic and gourmet store — huge and breathtaking in its choices, including freshly made deli items, baked goods and hot, delicious, just-prepared side dishes and entrees. It has a world-class vitamin section with staffers who are highly knowledgeable. Some stores have someone one offering massages. Their stores always have a friendly staff. They offer seminars on “wellness,” healthy cooking etc. A customer bulletin board shows business cards reflecting a customer mix with lots of “new age” people. Some call it “Whole Paycheck” because of its high prices.

But if a boycott has any impact, and if what the political class and internet readers and writers has filtered down to the average citizen, at least, Whole Foods could, as Richard Blair notes, have a problem. Online stories and blog posts generally note that Mackey made a huge business mistake or a political one. And it is hard to see those who mocked Obama for eating arugula stocking up in an organic foods, gourmet, store. Even with the company’s new disclaimer, it’s image will never be the same among at least some of its customers and soon-to-be former customers. And there is this: in the big California cities Whole Foods may be biggest game in town but not the only game.

FOOTNOTE: I love Whole Foods, but Henry’s is within walking distance of my condo, which is why I almost always go there. I originally went to the store in the late 90s, when I was doing a lots of fairs in Texas. I visited the Houston store so often during a one-month stay that friends joked that when I left Whole Foods had to lay off people.
–Joe Gandelman

UPDATE: See my note below. This clearly does not saying I am participating in the boycott. I don’t do boycotts. I can walk to Henry’s so I seldom go to Whole Foods anymore.

(CORRECTION: This mistakenly first went up under a Cagle Cartoons byline. This is a Guest Voice post, not Cagle Cartoons material)

Guest Voice posts do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of TMV or its writers.

UPDATE II: Be sure to read a new post on this controversy:What John Mackey of Whole Foods Actually Wrote vs What the WSJ Ran: See For Yourself, by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Author: Guest Voice