Want to take a photo in Whole Foods? Sorry—it’s not allowed.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 22, 2009
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Update: You (we) spoke, Whole Foods listened! You’re now allowed to take photos and videos in Whole Foods, thanks to WFM being open to customer feedback and being willing to change with these social media happy times.

A couple years ago we here at elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com, were doing one of our 88 little stories on Whole Foods (about their pioneering embrace of Renewable Energy Choice wind power, I think) when we were informed we couldn’t take any photos. Not even of the outside Whole Foods sign. We grimaced, smirked, winked and agreed, then went ahead and took photos anyway. Still, we couldn’t set up lights or anything, even though we were there at 7 am or something for the official wind-powered opening—and even though we were just trying to do a story that amounted to thousands of dollars of free advertising (the only kind Whole Foods has ever taken out with elephant).

And now I understand a bit more about why, and am glad to hear that, given the New Media revolution (and their Emeril show on Planet Green—that’s filmed in a WFM), Cathy Cochran-Lewis & Co at WFM are happy to reconsider said policy that’s upset its own patrons so. Excerpt:

Unauthorized photographs of the Hollywood set often lead to fistfights, lengthy press releases and even lawsuits. Who knew that a picture of a stack of peppers or fish fillets on ice could generate the same kind of passion?

Well, maybe not quite the same. After all, no one’s running anyone off the road over a picture of well-marbled beef.

But if you want to stir up the blogosphere, just Twitter about Whole Foods Market’s ban on photos and watch the insults and irate tweets fly. (Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to interact by sending and receiving very short text-based messages; a tweet is a post.)

“Photo ban harms only innocents, not competitors” declared ceejayoz in a tweet on Feb. 9.

“Ur photo policy may be more bad PR than it’s worth,” seconded danielriveong only a few minutes later.

This policy has been in place for years and is common among other grocery stores, furniture stores and other retail shops where competitors might use photographs as a way of stealing information about prices, store layout, and product displays. It’s also clear that Whole Foods doesn’t take the ban very seriously — run a Google images search for Whole Foods and it turns up close to 5 million hits, many of which were certainly taken without permission. Every time the ban gets rediscovered, it proves equally baffling to those who have wholeheartedly embraced the Web’s many opportunities for self-expression and comment. Why would any company want to stop people from taking pictures? they collectively ask.

And Whole Foods isn’t totally ignorant of their point: “We recognize that social and viral media has changed the photography landscape and our executive team will be reviewing this policy … in the near future. No definite date is set for this review at this time,” said Cathy Cochran-Lewis, national media relations coordinator for Whole Foods Market, in response to an e-mail about the photo ban.

Since food magazine, television shows and blogs have filled up with so-called “food porn,” and since technological advances have made high-quality cameras relatively cheap and accessible, they’ve become the de rigueur … for the rest, click here.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & 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. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


6 Responses to “Want to take a photo in Whole Foods? Sorry—it’s not allowed.”

  1. John Cropper says:

    I was recently kicked out of a Wal-Mart parking lot for taking pictures of the sunrise behind it. I was given no explanation, just that "what you are doing is criminal."

    Lunacy. If I shopped at Wal-mart to begin with, they would have lost a customer. Now, they just further alienated a non-shopper.

  2. Lisa says:

    I just wanted to take pictures to share with a friend who couldn't go with me on a trip. I was taking pictures of everything so she could feel like she was there. Then this lady comes over and gets all pissy and says I can't take pictures. This is rather pointless if you ask me!

  3. Sam says:

    People seem so surprised that a corporation would have a soul or give a crap. They don't. Stop expecting corporations to act with any sense or decency, it is just not going to happen. You are less than a speed bump for them. Corporations exist to make owners and top management rich. Period. End of story. Wake up. Stop shopping at these places.

  4. elephant is a corporation. You can take photos of us any time you like, Sam.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    I tried to video record (with my digital camera) the Whole Foods in San Diego to show a friend how great it was to encourage her to move out there. I was quickly tracked down and stopped by an employed saying I couldn't record videos or take photos. WTF? This isn't a military base.

    If your store (and brand) is well liked enough so that someone WANTS to take video or photos of it and spread it), that's a GOOD thing. Prohibiting that just kills the feel good buzz.

    And if a competitor or saboteur REALLY wanted to scope out your layout or prices, TRUST ME, they'll find a way to do it incognito.

  6. […] are not only able to shoot a photograph with our mobile phone; we can email it with a stroke of a key, we can SMS/text someone […]