Un Whole-y Foods. ~ Jade Sevelow

Via on Apr 13, 2013

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A former employee comes clean about the Good, the Sad & the Greenwashing at Whole Foods.

I know most of us love Whole Foods for its wonderful ideals, helpful employees, organic food, and gluten-free choices, but…I have a laundry list of things I dislike about Whole Foods.

As a former employee, I’ve seen the inner workings of a company that I consider to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, that’s my number one (organic) beef with them; they allow you to believe exactly what they want you to believe, no matter what the cost is to you, because it makes you feel better about your choices.

Let’s get one thing straight though, I’m not here to bash Whole Foods to its holy grave. They do a lot of things that help us make better choices, and support the environment, and I’d be happy to list those out in detail in my next post, but right now I’m here to highlight some of the ugly parts of the company.

If you get mad at the things I’m about to tell you, then I’m doing my job, and if you want to keep believing Whole Foods is the end all/be all of your health and well-being, then you should probably stop reading now and save yourself the heart-burn.

1. Not everything in Whole Foods is healthy.

I did a stint in prepared foods…and trust me, that potato salad or grilled chicken breast still contains as much mayo and canola oil as anyone else’s. Everything is laid out beautifully in glass cases, the serving dishes and utensils are changed mid-day in order to keep a fresh appearance, and even the pizza looks like it could be healthy.

But read the ingredients; pizza is still pizza, and the smoked mozzarella salad that everyone loves so much is loaded with fat, cheese and wheat (I have nothing against wheat, by the way). Just because bacon wrapped asparagus is behind that beautiful glass window doesn’t mean it wasn’t covered in canola oil so it didn’t stick to the grill, not to mention it’s still bacon, and no, Whole Foods bacon doesn’t contain any less fat than regular bacon. And here’s the worst secret—those delicious cookies you find in that pretty case by the bakery, you know, the peanut butter macadamia, or vegan chocolate chip? Each cookie has almost 500 calories and 18 grams of fat.

2. They’ve got pretty fancy wording. “Our Products are certified GMO-free.”

Oh, really?

Here’s the real low down on that marketing. Yes, Whole Foods brand 365 products are certified GMO free, but Whole Foods still sells foods that have GMOs in them.

Remember when Kashi got busted for using GMO soy protein? Did you see the Kashi products on your Whole Foods shelf disappear? No. You didn’t because Whole Foods’ wording is: “Our products are GMO free,” not “Every product in this store is GMO free.”

That said, this is changing transparency-wise: kudos. ~ ed.

It’s even clearly spelled out on their website that products in the store contain GMO’s. But who reads that? People who walk in the door aren’t deciphering 365 products from the rest. Whole Foods knows that, and they are perfectly content letting people go on believing they aren’t getting GMO’s simply because they bought it there. In fact, they sell hundreds of products from companies owned by the big conglomerates you love to hate.

Naked is owned by Pepsi; Odwalla, Honest Tea, and Simply Orange are owned by Coca-Cola; Kashi is owned by Kellogg; Silk is owned by Dean Foods; and Cascadian Farms, Larabar and Muir Glen are owned by General Mills.

Take that to the bank! And let me remind you, just because you bought your fake bacon at Whole Foods doesn’t mean it’s healthier than the Morning Star Farms (owned by Kellogg) you’d buy at Shop and Save. And on a side note, yes, their meats (aside from certified organic) are most definitely fed GMO grain. No, they do not require that animals (other than organic) are fed GMO free diets and no, it is not any more or less regulated than anywhere else.

In Whole Foods’ defense, they do have a simple rating system that will tell you all about your meats and fish, how they were raised, and what kind of life they had prior to slaughter in order for you to make an informed decision. But they certainly aren’t coming out and saying, your piece of ‘all natural’ flank steak was fed GMO grain.

3. Their conventional fruits and veggies contain just as much pesticides as anywhere else.

While Whole Foods loves to remind people they are the largest certified organic grocer in the U.S. (which is awesome), that does not mean they carry only organic produce. They are still a for-profit company, and they must meet demands of millions of people.

However, each time anyone walks in the door of a Whole Foods they’re greeted with a beautiful array of colors, smells and samples of delicious fruit and vegetables, making it easy to think, “How could any of these possibly be bad for me?”

Whole Foods does do a great job separating their organics and conventional products on the floor and in the coolers so they don’t touch, but I can’t count the times that a palate of produce would come off the truck with the conventional stacked on top of the organic, leading to a possible contamination. I was often terrified unpack the grapes with bare hands because each palate of conventional grapes came with its own personal package of pesticides that made my hands chalky. Walk into any grocery store worldwide and notice how they separate organic and conventional produce. Plastic dividers, bagged goods or separate tables are in play everywhere because if a grocery store wants to label something organic, they all have to play by the same rules. This stuff isn’t Whole Foods exclusive.

4. Many times their employees are so helpful because they’re terrified.

Yes, you heard me. Notice how when you ask for anything the person you’re talking to will put down everything they’re doing and walk you to whatever you’re looking for? And when they’re done, they’ll thank you and wish you a good day? It’s really nice to hear and in fact it’s really nice to say. But the truth is, employees are told from day one this is exactly how they must do it, and are also told that they will be secret shopped. Yes, Whole Foods hires secret shoppers who are instructed to ask certain questions, remember whether or not employees greeted them appropriately, “Hi, how can I help you”, or whether they wished them a good day. It’s simply exhausting to spend your day thinking every customer is there to tattle on you if you don’t do it correctly. And on top of it when the scores do come out, they are posted publicly, sent out in an email and at the next store meeting read aloud in from of the entire staff.

5. They are committed to helping the environment, most of the time, unless it’s inconvenient for them.

Yes, providing organic and local choices is always wonderful. Outside gardens and eating areas are nice, and who doesn’t love all the house plants and the generous, commendable community bike tune up kits. They plan on purchasing 458 gigawatt hours of wind energy credits, and they support community driven projects like compost giveaways. But how about the open egg, dairy and prepared foods cases that are in almost every store cooling the neighborhood? And the prepared foods take home boxes; they aren’t at all recyclable or compostable? Yea, no kidding. They certainly look like they could be either, with that fancy recycle symbol and “Eco Box” labeling, but they’re lined with plastic that can neither be recycled nor composted. Look in the eating area. Are there plastic utensils with no ‘for here’ options? Metal utensils generally have too high of a ‘disappearing rate’ so they aren’t given as an option. [Ed: Same thing with mugs: on a recent visit I couldn't get a for-here mug for my coffee, so I left. Even Starbucks offers for-here, if we ask]. Well what about compostable ones, you ask? While working as a Green Mission representative for a store, I was told that Whole Foods couldn’t source non-GMO compostable utensils and that most ‘compostable’ utensils actually don’t break down in time for commercial composting, so they weren’t looking at it as an option. Come on I say! You’re Whole Foods, you can source anything you want! Is virgin, non-recyclable, plastic really better than possible GMO not-fully-compostable corn? I don’t know…honestly, they’re both terrible to me, so offer the washable metal! I swear I won’t steal them!

6. With the amount of food Whole Foods throws away, they could feed entire cities.

At one of the stores I worked at (I worked at two), Whole Foods did donate many non-perishable and produce items to Community Food Share, but the reality is that it was easier to throw it away or compost it than find a place to store it, or try to plead with employees to take the time to separate it. What you also don’t see is that Whole Foods put a five-day discard date on everything (even though the general rule for grocery stores is seven). Except, it needs to be thrown away or composted before that 5th day, so if you make it on Monday, it has ’til Friday, but they instruct employees to discard of it Thursday night. They have a strict policy of not letting employees take any food home, and an even more strict policy of not discounting going-out-of-date product because it gives off an impression they do not feel is within their standards. AKA, it attracts the wrong crowd. People all over the world suffer from malnourishment or die of starvation every day, some of Whole Foods’ own employees even struggle get by [though Whole Foods does win best to work for, year after year ~ ed.], yet they won’t allow food to go anywhere but the composter out of fear of attracting the ‘discount’ crowd and having it turn into a nuisance.

Are you mad yet? Frustrated? Feel lied to? Me too.

My point here isn’t to crucify Whole Foods, though it may seem that way: they do go above and beyond most grocery stores. My point is that they are on a high horse, when the reality is that they pick their battles, just like everyone else. They choose to point out the great things they are doing, and sweep the ugly stuff under the rug. It’s brilliant marketing and they are making millions off of image.

You could argue much of this is someone simply venting because they hate “Whole Paycheck” But the honest truth is, when I worked there, I shopped there. I liked the products they had and I enjoyed the ambiance just like everyone else! But this list is not the list of a disgruntled shopper. I witnessed these things first hand. And let me tell you, writing this did not come without some fear of angry emails.

So let’s just call a spade a spade: Whole Foods isn’t as holy as they’d like you to believe, but you like shopping there because it makes you feel like you are making good choices; and they like that you like that.

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66 Responses to “Un Whole-y Foods. ~ Jade Sevelow”

  1. Donovan says:

    I was taught that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

    • elephantjournal says:

      That works great in relationships.

      • Aria says:

        The post wasn't written to bash the company (although the opening did contradict the ending in that sense…). The post is more of a realistic view on the marketing world, which should be criticized and analysed. Many of the points mentioned in this post aren't explicit to Whole Foods — he's only revealing the sneaky marketing strategies that Whole Foods employs. And a lot of the points made are universal to other big companies! I had a very similar experience while working at a tea shop — using artificial flavors to seduce guests into buying their product over someone else's (the fact that the teas were flavored was even hidden from customers — you had to ask if you wanted to know), having to make outstanding sales out of fear (lots of people got fired right away just because they were firing the lowest "rungs" of sales… then they'd hire a new person, fire them and keep cycling through), manipulating their words to make customers feel at ease with their choice, etc. A lie and a manipulation are the same thing, and nothing is ever what it seems (especially with big-profit companies!)
        If anything, we should appreciate this post for what it is: a reminder that what we are told in any store may be manipulations and fancy words that are stated just so. As a smart-shopper we should do our own research, and not buy into the corporate mantra.
        Thus, I didn't find anything in this post explicitly "not nice" despite perhaps a bitter tone during some points. Otherwise, the essence of the post as a whole is "be a smart consumer."
        Where would we be if we didn't point out hypocrisy when we saw it?

    • Bradley says:

      You were taught wrong. Go head, bury your head in the sand and continue to eat the crap that corporate America dishes out to you. I prefer to get all the information I can from various sources, and then make the best choices for my family. I appreciate this bit of intel from a former employee, it just further accentuates things I have heard from others who used to work there.

  2. D.M. says:

    Other than numbers 4-6 (which are extremely disappointing), Whole Foods IMHO has done their due diligence to make the public aware of their policies and still does a better job than most. It's sad that people think the general population needs to be spoon-fed bold and explicit disclaimers in order to make educated decisions.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Agree, and disagree. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Whole Foods and what they've accomplished. Because they're a hero, a leader, we hold them to a high bar that they don't always measure up to. There's the rub. They're great. Constructive criticism is always welcomed by great companies with integrity. ~ Waylon

    • Staci says:

      My sentiments exactly

  3. Wendy says:

    donovan If that were the case there would be no FB or Twittter.

  4. d says:

    Of course whole foods sells GMOS and non organic produce, you have to be a smart consumer and read labels. to everything. get over it. it's still a LOT easier and better to shop here than a super wal mart down the street.

  5. Ian says:

    Not a convincing argument not to shop there. Do a little research, pick and choose the products that it your lifestyle.

    • elephantjournal says:

      That's not her argument. Her argument seems to be: they're better than the rest, and could be better still.

  6. Karl Saliter Karl says:

    Thank you for posting this.

    • elephantjournal says:

      You bet. While I'm a fan of WFM, constructive criticism is always healthy for mission-based businesses and makes us better, helps us hew closer to our integrity.

      Some folks in this comments section can't seem to distinguish between criticism of an overall good company that could be better still and a take down rant. In any case, it's connected with many readers—it's one of our most popular on our entire site, already, which is a testament to the power in this criticism and the enthusiasm that folks have for WFM issues.

  7. phoebe says:

    I think I like the fact that they are told they will be secretly shopped. It’s an effective way to be nice and respectful to customers. It’s hard to see nice employers these days. They always make you feel like you’re adding a burden to their job and show you an attitude or something. So yeah, I have nothing against that.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Agree. It's common practice in restaurants, too.

    • Claire says:

      Yeah, I agree as well. What's the problem with good customer service?

      • Gail says:

        I agree that there's nothing wrong with secret shoppers.Even if you are a top notch customer service person, sometimes it's not bad to be reminded to be a good role model . I was an airline employee for 15 years and "monitored" continuously during those years. As the saying goes," you can catch more bees with honey," is relevant in sales and service jobs. If I'm not treated with respect and expected to hand over my money regardless of the service given me, it will be the last time I shop at that store. Does my boycotting change anything? I think it does. For one thing, I feel better. I' feel employees should be held to a higher standard. It makes the world a nicer place too.

    • Bill says:

      I do agree. Every store uses secret shoppers to evaluate employees, and if I owned a business I would do the same.Bill

    • docbon89 says:

      I also agree. If your default mode is to be friendly and helpful to all customers whenever and however possible, then you should not be afraid. If you would act differently if you knew there were NO secret shoppers, you just made the argument for them. What I don't agree with is how the results are utilized to shape behavior. A supervisor or manager should share these privately with individuals who need to do better, and to outline how to do that. If the employee continually cannot meet the standards, then he or she can and should rightfully be let go.

  8. phoebe says:

    I mean *employees.

  9. SynDee says:

    Me thinks thou sounds bitter. I am a Whole Foods Market team member, (5 years) and I've worked for LOTS of other companies. There is not company that is more transparent, more caring, more willing to admit when they've made a mistake, and so many other things too numerous to mention. What you have talked about here is nothing new and nothing horrible. I wonder why people always want to bash those that are actually doing something.

    I LOVE my job and I am always proud to say I work for Whole Foods Market. I walk a customer to the product they are looking for because it's a little better customer service than pointing and saying, it's over there. We don't have numbers on our aisles for this very reason. It's called the personal touch. I've never know anyone to get fired because they didn't walk a customer to the product. That's redonkulous that they are terrified, as you say. haha…

    As far as the giving the old food away…first, I would rather have food that is past it's prime not sold to me. How about the stores that re-date their food and sell it as fresh?

    It's also difficult to give perishables away because, think about it, once the food leaves the store we have no idea how it's stored, how long before it's actually given to someone to eat, etc. Can you just imagine the lawsuits if someone became ill because of food donated by Whole Foods Market? Imagine those headlines. Unfortunately, we live in a country where people can sue anybody for anything and if it's against a corporation that is very public…it's bad. That is the real sad thing.

    • Norwegiansteam says:

      Any of the foodie stores have their drawbacks. We have to be responsible for our own actions at some point. But it is easier to shop for good organic food in any of the foodie stores, but we HAVE to know that isn't all they sell. If we do our homework and inform ourselves about GMO/non-GMO companies, gluten free, grass fed beef, organic, and the list goes on, then we can shop smartly. The fact that they disclose bunches of things and have a rating system shows that they are willing to go the extra step to help the uninformed shopper. The comments about secret shoppers is just paranoid on the writers part, this is and accepted practice for one avenue of feedback to improving a stores image. Everyone wants to work for a winner and a employer that is smart in the way they deal with the public, it means longevity for their job. But yes, and I am sure "Whole Paycheck" knows this too but I'll say it anyway, "the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement."

    • docbon89 says:

      I agree with much of what you say. I do want to comment on giving away produce to food banks or the like. My husband volunteers for our local food bank and he goes to stores and restaurants to pick up excess inventory. I cannot comment on laws in other states, but in NC, once the retailer gives the food to the food bank, it has absolutely no remaining liability for what happens after that. Now if the store had it on good information that the food bank was not careful with its food and people often became sick because of that, the store could stand on moral ground and say it does not want to support that. But otherwise, there is no liability and most hungry and poor people would rather have some produce that is a little over-ripe but not rotten, than to constantly have to eat canned and frozen fruits and vegetables that have been processed. I know at our food bank they are also careful to throw away food – or give it to the local animal farmers who feed it to their livestock – when it is clearly a health risk for people to consume.

  10. Kate says:

    Definitely some good points in this article. But, as Ian mentions above, not a convincing argument to avoid shopping there (especially for those whose only other choice may be the other big box supermarkets). Consumers need to pay attention, read the labels…..get in the game, instead of just being a spectator. Also, re: #4 – I have to wholeheartedly disagree with this being included on the list. Every single (and I mean EVERY) retailer worth their salt employs secret shoppers. It's a part of the industry, always has been. Further, all retailers have their own employee conduct policies (both ordinary and quirky), of which each employee is made aware when he accepts employment (not to mention each additional time he/she tacitly agrees to those policies when a paycheck is received). If employees are "terrified" because someone may catch them not following policies that they have agreed to follow (which, if I read your examples above correctly, effectively amount to being courteous and helpful) and, these same employees are "exhausted" by having to exhibit such behavior on a day-to-day basis, then perhaps this job is not the best match for them.

  11. Grassfarmer NH says:

    I think “d” said it well. You do have to be a savvy consumer. There are GMO’s in almost everything nowadays. I think your article lacked real grit to be honest with you. It feels like you’re just having fun bashing WFM because someone out there needs to right? At least they’re trying in this day and age of complete confusion on what’s really in our food. I feel like I spend hours each day making sure I am eating non GMO food. Even my local co-op serves “natural meat” (which was most likely fed conventional grain) for lunch and they are as “green” as green can get. So I still have to be a responsible eater (to myself) everywhere I go. Even at the market Mecca of green lifestyles and eating choices. We all have to be this way. My recommendation is to stop bashing WFM and go out there and find a good farmer/s to purchase food from. Talk to them. Make sure it’s organic. If you’re buying meat, again, talk to them and ask them what they feed their animals. Track track track your food! You are your own best advocate. At this point (and hopefully in the future it will change) you can’t rely on anyone or any market to watch your food. YOU must watch your food. Learn, do your research, and find the satisfaction in really knowing your food and therefore your farmers. Try not to fault WFM. They are just trying to offer something better to a large population of people. No one is perfect. You’re your own best advocate…

  12. claire says:

    I don’t find this list frustrating or horrifying at all. Of course they sell products with GMOs … They are as pervasive as plastic, that’s not whole foods fault and they do a better job than the vast majority of stores to give consumers the opportunity to make an informed decision. Regarding secret shoppers…good, that’s standard and effective, and being helpful and courteous is important, not mad at that one bit. No one needs to be terrified, just be nice. If you don’t want to use plastic, which I get because I don’t either, bring your own, which I do. Ultimately the responsibility to show up in the world in a way that is in union with your intentions is up to each person, if something is that important to me, or you, we can act accordingly. Expecting others, including the businesses we frequent to do make that happen is an avoidance of that responsibility. Also, I don’t find whole foods to be deceptive in regard to your argument.

  13. Yasmin says:

    I agree that most of what was written is old news for anyone who has read Michael Pollan's work. I would like to comment that donating perishables is very easy. I work at Trader Joe' and anything questionable but possibly usable is donated. It is picked up twice a day by local food banks so it should be standard practice for any grocery store. I still shop at WFM because there are things I can't find at TJ's. I have been disappointed lately because their baked goods contain a lot of refined and unpronounceable ingredients (corn syrup, mono-diglycerides) when they used to say flour, butter, sugar, salt. I've also noticed the ambiance changing. It used to feel like a specialty store and now it's beginning to feel like a big box store. Instead of engaged, educated food oriented employees there are now a lot of disengaged inexperienced employees (very young or newly emigrated.)

  14. Jury says:

    At the flagship store the healthy eating venue – Raw food and vegan – use hardly any organic produce. The same goes for the juice bar – Hardly ANY organics.
    Also – The flagship store had a food recycling program regarding recycling to-go food produced in store that HAD TO be used in the venues/restaurants serving as daily special to save on food thrown away and also to make extra dollars… This meant that, shockingly, the vegan/raw food/ healthy eating venue at the flagship store served, for over a year, food that had already been cooked, then re-heated and turned into something else after 7 days (sometimes more depending on the level of competence the worker of the day had) finally to be sold as a healthy meal overpriced for what it was and the lack of nutrients. Sometimes the food smelled really bad too.
    There is more where this came from…

  15. I Still Shop There says:

    I'm a former employee as well… I still shop Whole Foods quite a bit… because frankly, they're the best. I think they do a great job being transparent with GMOs and organic/conventional foods. When I worked there, I was given detailed information and encouraged to share it with guests. I told plenty of customers that there were GMOs in most products, BPA in most cans, etc. Whole Foods has always provided more and better education about food health than any other retailer. Want a greenwashed store to bash? Check out Sprouts. Holy Moly.

    I do have one question / thing to note. Haagen Dazs is in the freezer at every Whole Foods store. Yet Haagen Dazs and its parent Dreyer's have famously refused to say that their milk comes from rBGH-free cows. Whole Foods' buying criteria prohibits dairy products from rBGH cows. What gives? Are they giving HD a pass because they bring in so much money? Did Dreyer's put the thumbscrews on Whole Foods somehow? After several years with Whole Foods, only coming across one potential straight-up lie isn't bad, really.

    That said, I'll be the first to criticize many of the ways they treat their employees. The "Best Employers" thing always boggled my mind. Yes, the discounts and benefits are pretty good. But on the other hand, secret shoppers were the least of our worries. Employees were regularly hauled into the office and put on probation – or even fired – because a supervisor blamed them for something to cover their own backside. Reports on attendance got doctored to give managers excuses to get rid of people they didn't like. Things we told HR people in confidence would creepily come up in meetings with superiors. A cashier I knew was injured in a freak accident (outside work) and couldn't stand for eight hours straight. She asked for a stool at her register. They told her it was against fire code (which wasn't true) and that they'd find a way to fire her if she didn't go on unpaid medical leave indefinitely.

    Oh, and John Mackey is pretty much the biggest jerk I've ever met. Brilliant, perhaps. But definitely a jerk.

    It was my observation that WFM exerted tremendous downward pressure on their employees from the very top, had an unhealthy obsession with perfection, consistently refused to take negative feedback, and chose to protect brutal managers that kept sales dollars rolling in, even when it was obvious that they were throwing anyone and everyone under the bus in really nasty ways.

    So although I don't identify with some of the things in this article, I understand the spirit behind it. Whole Foods positions itself as perfect – even to its employees. But that's a little cultish, a little brainwash-y. Shop Whole Foods if you like the grocery experience, because they do a good job. Just don't indulge their little ego/perfection fantasy.

    • McMillian says:

      Your report is very much in keeping with someone I know. It was not a cooperative, cohesive, camaraderie-like spirit at all- quite the contrary. He said it was very cut-throat, and at times, extremely demeaning and mean-spirited. And yes, a lot of superiors covering their asses- perhaps that's more common than not, but not a part of his expectations about working there. He simply could not stay there because of it.

  16. KMA says:

    I think the worst part about anything you have said here is the part about the "secret shoppers". This is a very stressful practice…and prevents the desire to genuinely help someone. I work at a CEMETERY and we have "secret phone shoppers". It is a wasteful use of time and may prevent us from helping someone with a true need. It is also ridiculous to have to act…they give you scripts to follow….this is a terrible practice and seems so insincere!

  17. @zoeduu says:

    #4 – this is called customer service. It used to exist in society as common normal behavior. If it is terrifying for you to greet customers and help them in a retail environment because they might be a quality control shopper…..you are in the wrong job. What is sad is that primarily the young people working at Whole Foods obviously have such shitty attitudes that the company has to take this measure to ensure employees will treat customers with basic human decency says more about this generation's poor attitude rather than a knock on WF.

    • Jess says:

      I take it you've never worked in retail. There's probably very few people you come in contact with who's main job at WF is to service customers. They are stocking, inventorying, etc. So it does create paranoia when you're moving a cart to stock bananas, but have to interrupt that to ask someone if they need help because they *might* be a secret shopper. As a customer, if I need help, I'll ask for it. But WF employees fall all over themselves asking if I need help, which is a little much.

  18. Pete Shield says:

    In a practical and business sense there is a fundamental misunderstanding in the WF culture of the way a shop floor works, large retail spaces work better when the team works as a team, WF ranking of individuals militates directly against creating that sense of community and mutual support. WF is of course a creation of MeKay's wlll power and the hard work of hundreds of employees to implement it and so reflects his hard core libertarian ideology, the fact that treating shop floor workers like white collar executives in unsustainable in the long term is beholden to the political beliefs of WF founder is one of the obvious contradiction of the whole enterprise. The secret shopper approach is far from unique to WF and it is on the whole a management device designed by HR department to make them feel good about its own efficiency, the fact that time after time it fails in its basic purpose, making staff more stressed and less efficient fails to register in management powerpoints. A simple and useful counter weight is of course trade union organisation, but WF bans that basic right.

    My second point would be that the author equates organic with healthy, what he forgets is the individuals dietary regime. Eating a healthy diet of industrial grown vegetables is healthier than a fat and calorie rich diet of processed organic food. It's all about diet planning, after I get back from selling my organic produce at one of the five organic or local producers markets there is nothing more morally and physically satisfying experiences that filling my face with a home made gluten free pancake, loaded with a mountain of melted cheese and topped with a fried egg, but then it's back into the fields for an afternoon of hard work and a supper of vegetable soup. "Bad" food is great in small quantities as part of an overall healthy diet, away with thee brown lentil stews 7 days a week. I would be surprised if WF client base, what we call BoBos here in France (bourgeois bohemians), are completely ignorant of such as thing as dietary planning.

  19. Jury says:

    I am a former employee – I wrote the previous post assigned "Jury". Did anyone read it? This is of utter most importance. I had to throw out food that was either miss labeled or not date labeled AT ALL! The oldest batch of food I had to throw out was 16 days over date. This happened every week. Someone above stated that whole foods doesn't re-lable when it comes to dating… YES THEY DO! There is also a LOT of favoritism in the weird rankings of employees. I chose to leave Whole Foods after two years of work and it took me two years to land the job. I think it's about time someone took a deep look into the company, especially the flagship store that seems to be god forsaken when focus is on opening new stores all over…
    Read my previous post a few lines up… I'm "Jury".

  20. Teresa says:

    I feel so lucky to live in Seattle where there is PCC and Central Coop as other choices

  21. Denise says:

    It's up to the consumer to be educated about the food they buy. I love Whole Foods for what they have to offer but I don't expect them to make my decisions for me. I don't eat certain things and I make sure of that when I shop. I think holding the company responsible for our health is absurd. I understand being on the inside and seeing things that might not be right, and I can appreciate that so thanks for the post. It's all the more proof that people need to understand they should never leave their food choices up to a giant company that is in the business of making money.

  22. Louis says:

    After reading this post, I wasn’t sure if it was a clever way to promote Whole Foods because the positive comments place WF above any other big chain food store and the negatives in my opinion are not really marks against WF but more of a form of caveat emptor.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Hah. Agree. Those who think this is a take down of WFM should reread, closer.

      There's similar challenges in constructive criticism re: Patagonia, American Apparel, TOMS, Ted Talks, other companies or initiatives that are worth and commendable but can always improve in adherence to their mission.

      • Maria says:

        I thought the same thing. Most health-conscious shoppers would not be surprised by any of this. The message is be selective and aware, even when shopping at WF, which offers far more healthy and green choices than any other supermarket I can name.

  23. Jaime says:

    She’s not saying don’t shop at whole foods, she’s just making people aware that believe that everything they but there is organic and healthy. Yes, a TON of people don’t read labels and don’t look into what their meat has been fed or how it was raised. Not to mention its a ridiculously overpriced store. Grow your own veggies and fruits if u can and try to get your meats from farms you can trust. There are alternatives to whole foods if u spend time to research..

  24. Haru says:

    This is why I prefer Natural Grocers, at least you KNOW everything is organic and non-GMO. Can't wait until Trader Joe's moves to town. BTW, it was confusing but please learn that the word is "pallet" for that thing that crates are carried on, "palate" is the roof of your mouth or your sense of taste.

    • elephantjournal says:

      How is Trader better? If anything, lots of sugary crap and plastic packaging…honest question!

    • asirah says:

      Just so you know… Not everything carried by Trader Joe's is organic and nonGMO – actually most of their store brand stuff is total crap.

  25. savasana addict says:

    Apart from all the other insightful comments it's maybe also worth noting that WF seems to have different policies depending on which country they operate in. The London store, just as a basic example, does give you metal cutlery and mugs if you eat in.

  26. I keep a wary eye on Whole Foods. i remember when the CEO John Mackey got into hot water with some negative comments in regards to health care reform. Then there was this article on global warming, http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/01/26/whole-

    I heard an NPR interview with John Mackey and he espoused some surprising conservative views. Now, I'm not a holier than thou liberal who is going to stop shopping Whole Foods because of the perfectly valid personal opinions of the CEO. But I do keep an eye out for companies that "greenwash" their products and I believe that Whole Foods falls into that category. I have to wonder if John Mackey believes in what he is doing or if he is purely in it for the money. In the same way that people exploit religious faith for profit I believe that people concerned about the environment and their health are easily exploited as well.

  27. kepster says:

    Our closest Whole Foods was once a popular locally owned company that, while great for the community, wasn't a terribly well run business as far as customer service was concerned. And for that I applaud Number Four on your list and don't think it's such a bad thing. At least in the transition of products someone will take the time to politely show me how to buy more from their store. What a concept!

  28. elephantjournal says:

    Tons of comments on FB, but here's a few: Timothy Peterson I don't shop at Whole Foods for reasons of my own, but this article isn't very convincing.
    Like · Reply · 5 hours ago
    Shawna Langley Picky eaters pay more. Case closed.
    Like · Reply · 3 hours ago
    Amye Lengtat My husband works for them and they treat their employees amazing and their customers even better. All stores have to offer options, otherwise they cut themselves down to the elite of society for the cost that everything in their store would be. Get over it! If you don't like it, take the time to grow your food and kill your own meat.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 2 hours ago
    Margaret Nelson Craig fluff piece….I worked there and all this is blown out of proportion and ridiculous really
    Like · Reply · 2 hours ago
    Jan M Nothing too surprising here.
    All companies try to paint a positive light on their ethics and operations. When you look deeper into any companies operations, it's not very hard to find inconsistencies, but none of the points raised here are deal breakers IMO.
    Like · Reply · 2 hours ago
    elephantjournal.com Margaret, agree basically! Leave a detailed comment, instead of a casual insult, do your criticism the justice it deserves. Jade I thought was positive and constructive overall.

  29. AshLV says:

    For anyone living in NYC looking for safer alternatives to Whole Foods I would highly recommend The Westerly Natural Market. Though they cater more to vegetarians/vegans, you will be guaranteed natural and organic alternative to many foods including produce without a doubt. The other option is to go to fresh farms or farmers' markets. Whole foods is a joke in the vegan world. Though they offer much more and some better options than the average grocery store, they are not as healthy or holistic as they would like you to believe.

  30. Dominic says:

    Using secret shoppers to monitor individual employee performance (as opposed to the general shopping experience provided by a store) is exactly the same as saying to your employees that you don’t trust them. It’s that simple. I say this as the owner of a retail business and an employer. That Wholefoods are voted best employer says more about the US labour market than how great they are.

  31. Karen says:

    I don't know of any company or employer that doesn't have some kind of evaluation in place for employees. Yes, there are standards. Every semester I have to assess whether or not my students have met student learning objectives for all of my courses. We live in a consumer culture where we quantify results – like it or not, that's the reality!

  32. michellec433 says:

    Idk about you, but the Whole Foods in my neighborhood (Winston-Salem) and in my bf (Chapel Hill) have for here mugs and utensils, not to mention compostable utensils. They label everything very well and the staff is always very informed about products. I even interviewed an employee for a school project about how to eat organic on a budget! He even told me which foods were and were not GMO foods. Just because you had a bad experience does not mean that everyone else's is going to be like that. For shame.

  33. jleesa says:

    I think the average inquisite WFs shopper already knows this. There was nothing new in this article to me, except how much and how quickly food is thrown out and/or composted and the "incentives" the employees have to be helpful.

    Its nieve as a consumer to think that "health food stores as well as most other environmental friendly" businesses aren't still greedy corporate types who are cutting corners to make a profit while simultaneously proporting "wholistic" values.

    This is old news to consumers like me but possibly informative to those who still live in fantasy land.

  34. laura h says:

    I am an informed shopper, so none of this was news to me.

  35. Maggie says:

    I was going to leave a long comment, but I see that many others have already said it all. I certainly do not fall head over heels for Whole Foods; in fact, I find the place pretty annoying. However, this is a really ridiculous list and it actually makes me want to unsubscribe from elephant for sharing it. I'm sorry I bothered to read the whole thing through, thinking that certainly, it would get better…nope, I was wrong.

  36. Kris says:

    Sorry, but this is a very poor article with weak arguments and obviously written by someone with an agenda against Whole Foods. Anyone who doesn't know that Whole Foods sells non-organic produce and GMO's, and that their pizza is "still pizza", probably knows very little about nutrition and doesn't read labels. And since when is an organization using secret shoppers to test the customer service skills of their employees new OR a bad thing? Clearly this person has never run their own company or managed/supervised anything in their life. As a previous commenter mentioned, it us up to every consumer to be educated and is not the responsibility of the organization to make sure that the consumer is aware of every last detail and label. They have not misrepresented themselves at all.

    For the record, I don't shop at Whole Foods because I have a Trader Joe's local and prefer their low prices. But this is just the latest string of poorly written Elephant Journal articles that have me this close to unsubscribing.

  37. Mobius says:

    Except for #2, all these are totally obvious to anyone but the dumbest person. Why in the world would anyone think their pizza doesn't have the same fat content as any other pizza? This isn't really an insider's secret insight. Employees have to act and speak a certain way? Welcome to retail.

    "Are you mad yet? Frustrated? Feel lied to? Me too." Um, no. No. And no. Oh, unless you mean 'at you' for wasting my time reading this.

  38. asirah says:

    These bulletins you've laid out about what you dislike all seem pretty exaggerated. First and foremost – Whole Foods has to offer conventional fruits and veggies, which will naturally have pesticide residue since they're conventional. This is unavoidable, if WFM stopped selling conventional produce they'd lose a massive amount of customers. The exact same point goes for foods that contain GMOs – this is again unavoidable, they would lose a massive amount of customers and a really large amount of products that are carried. The idea is to offer options, some people genuinely don't care about GMOs or conventional produce, why shouldn't they have the option of purchasing those products? At any rate, WFM is currently in the process of requiring all vendors to label their products if they do contain GMOs, vendors have 5 years (until 2018) to do this or their products will be removed from the shelves.

    As far as employees being terrified…Wow what an exaggeration! When I worked in the store I wasn't terrified, I was cautious about being mystery shopped but not bothered to walk guests to the aisle they were looking for. Yes, that is a policy, but what company doesn't have their own business model requiring these types of actions which set them apart from other companies? WFM is known for exceptional customer service. When I worked retail, every company I worked for utilized mystery shoppers.

    Of course a lot of the products WFM carries are unhealthy – there's absolutely no advertisement whatsoever that says everything on the shelves is good for you. It is, however, higher quality and much more scrutinized than what makes it onto the shelves at Walmart. It is literally impossible to hold every customer's hands in their decision making. They put what information they can out, within reason, to make education possible for guests – if they choose not to take advantage of that the company cannot be held responsible.

    I understand that everyone has their preferences and you're entitled to yours… But these points you make are pretty slanderous and for the most part exaggerated. Whole Foods Market is one of the best companies out there, the standards are unbelievably high, they take care of their employees, they genuinely care about consumers and give back to ALL communities in ways I've never heard of from other huge corporations. All in all – I'd say WFM is a wonderful company.

  39. Karin says:

    There is not much here that is news to me. I’m just a regular customer at WF, and if you read their signage and any of their materials or labels, this is all kind of obvious. You ‘don’t bash’ them for a lot of things that they are not claiming to be or do, and I don’t think any regular customer of WF — or anyone other than the very naïve — thinks they are purely non-GMO, organic, perfect in every way. What they are is a big step up from the downward spiral that grocery store have been taking for decades. I can read and understand the difference between organic and conventional. I can read labels. I just don’t get the point of this article.

  40. Mary Low says:

    Thank you so much for your article about Whole Foods. I would like a list of shops who do not sell food containing GMO's. Is it impossible to find one.?

  41. Brad says:

    By the way, Whole Foods, along with all the other grocery conglomerates, chose NOT to support prop 522 in the state of Washington, requiring labeling of GMO products, and to be voted on in Nov. 2013. What does that tell you? It tells you that Whole Foods is more interested in big-profits and continued deception to its customer base. Labeling of GMOs might actually show the truth about how many GMO products they actually sell. There is nothing wrong with being profit-motivated, but at least be honest about it.

  42. Ellie says:

    None of it is really surprising….except for the food waste issue. It’s apalling that in this day and age all this food goes into the compost bin. Surely they could make arrangement with local shelters and food pantries for daily pick-up. They could even do it without publicity if they are so worried about their brand dilution. Right now the states, due to the government shutdown, are sending out letters that the WIC benefits will run out as early as the 15th, and many kids and single moms will be going hungry as that happens. Meals on wheels? I am not sure how they are financed, but they could probably use some help as well.

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