Sunflower Farmers Market (founded by Mike Gilliland, formerly of Wild Oats) goes after Whole Foods.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Nov 25, 2008
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Want to love the earth, and keep chemicals out of your tummy—but can’t afford to spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods? That’s the pitch that the new Sunflower Farmers Markets grocery chain is making—right at that little sweet spot that lies between your conscience and your wallet.

Well, to be fair, Whole Foods themselves is aggressively going after your dollar (as opposed to your 20 dollar bill)…but in the proud tradition of American Capitalism, an ex-co-founder of Wild Oats, Boulder Colorado’s Mike Gilliland has started some real competition for the lower end of the mindful market. We have one here in Boulder—because they don’t advertise in I frankly forgot about them—as I’m sure did all of you—until the other day, when I went to the VIP opening of Ellie‘s (fortuitously right next door).

The place was huge, tons of selection—the decor and buildout was fun, if a little tacky, and I didn’t see why they were calling it a Farmers’ Market, since just about everything was shipped in and packaged—that said, I’m psyched to have some competition in my hometown, now that Wild Oats and the Boulder Co-op have been Darwin-ed by Whole Foods and Safeway.

FYI, y’all…via the www:

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey:

“If I could go back in time, we wouldn’t have done the Wild Oats acquisition,” Mackey told Samuel Fromartz in an interview the food journalist posted on his blog,

Last February, the Austin, Texas-based chain Whole Foods announced that it would acquire Wild Oats. The Federal Trade Commission tried to halt the merger, saying that Whole Foods was buying out its competition. But the merger prevailed.

“We spent tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, we’ve been investigated, it’s been highly disruptive,” Mackey told Fromartz. “I didn’t realize it would cause so much grief. But if you’re saying has it been a good deal aside from that, well, it’s very early in the process. And we have to invest money before we get returns on it. We always say it takes about two years to integrate a company we acquire and with Oats we’re about 8 months into the process. I’d say we’re pretty happy so far but can’t say with an absolute certainty until the 24 months have passed. But morale is very high and we’ve seen a lot of good sales increases.”

Mackey said that the notion that Whole Foods had quashed its competition “[boggled] his mind.” He cited Trader Joe’s and Safeway’s Lifestyle stores, among other businesses, as examples to the contrary.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


9 Responses to “Sunflower Farmers Market (founded by Mike Gilliland, formerly of Wild Oats) goes after Whole Foods.”

  1. admin says:

    Kate Casavecchia Crisp
    Today at 2:03pm
    (whole foods wouldnt consider it.) we love sunflower!!
    Place Bid – cMarket Fundraising Auction

  2. Heather says:

    I love Sunflower and their prices are cheaper than Whole Foods. Or at least they feel cheaper, I’ve never actually compared specific items, I just always seem to spend less when I go to Sunflower, but that could be because they don’t carry some of the brands that I splurge on at WF (like the local Wild Thyme black bean hummus).

    I feel silly admitting this, but Whole Foods still seems more fun to shop at, like a circus of food, whereas Sunflower feels like a supermarket. Maybe it’s the lighting?

  3. Mark says:

    Well, to be correct, Waylon, Sunflower is full of junk. It’s part of their business plan, sort of like how Ideal Market was (but sort of worse), but that’s completely fine because their not claiming to be as pure as a health food store. It’s the best of both.

    But, I just wanted to clarify this and let people know that before you run over thinking it’ll be your health food store, there’s red# you-name-it all over the place there. But they do have lots of healthy stuff, my only complaint is that their private label stuff is below average.

    But to give the flip-side. Whole Foods spit their employees out like it aint funny, and for the consumers, you’re being ripped off, straight-up.

    Sunflower has the right idea, in theory, I just wish their own private label stuff tasted any good, especially as they don’t offer many other brands.

  4. Sarah K says:

    At first I was excited to try Sunflower for the obvious economic reasons. But I hate to report back that it is not really a competitor of Whole Foods. Most of the meats are NOT organic or even all natural, nor are the cheeses. The produce is mixed, but marked unclearly, so I found it hard to be sure if I was buying Organic or Conventional.

    As “Mark” pointed out above, the Sunflower brand stuff is full of hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes, and frankly tastes yucky.

    I think its also worth noting that on the Sunflower site itself, under the “mission statement”, there is NO mention of “Organic, All Natural, Sustainable” etc.
    I’m surprised, and a bit insulted, that a Wild Oats leader would have gone on to open a pseudo health store, rather than a true, low price Natural foods grocery.

    To sum up…..Don’t be fooled! If you want to avoid “Whole Paycheck”, check out the large Safeway’s with the Organics sections. They have the same kind of deals, and are actually Organic!

  5. phyllis says:

    Though Whole Foods ranks at the top of the best companies to work for…that too is a canard…as companies pay, yes pay, to have their employees fill out questionnaires. The employees may have ranked the company favorably but try seeking employment there and see for yourself. Then try reaching Mackey or corporate to let them know of your experience (not possible). It’s only a supermarket afterall that is trying to be based on a sixties model of ‘righteous and earthy’ but falls hideously short. They are solely interested in making money and have entered this business to do so. The fact that they source and brand well is an incidental. Do you really like shopping in mega-sized stores? Personally I prefer mega-sized museums and mega-sized temples.

  6. Claire James says:

    I too was excited to try Sunflower Farmers Markets, but then disappointed when I did. Yes, Whole Foods costs a little more, but their meat and produce are organic. That is what you are aying for. Anything can be labeled “natural.” This is a huge marketing ploy right now that Sunflower is using to manipulate the public into thinking they are a healthy foods store for cheap. But, check it out yourself… most of their food is full of junk and on the rare occasion they do have organics, it is the same price as Whole Foods.

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