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Whole Foods looking to subpoena competitors records?
December 2, 2008 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Whole Foods looking to subpoena competitors records? Not content to do sneaky business the new way, Whole Foods is using it's court battle with the FTC to try and subpoena the business records and marketing plans of competing natural foods market New Seasons.

Of course, they promise that no one other than the lawyers will see the records. The larger question here is: "Who's next?". The FTC concerns the merger between Whole Foods and Wild Oats. New Seasons wasn't even involved until, suddenly!, their confidential business documents were of the UTMOST importance. Of course, New Seasons isn't taking this lying down, but with Whole Foods looking to become the "Microsoft of the natural foods" market, do they stand a chance?

Jeez, whatever happened to tofu, granola, love and peace?
posted by GilloD (83 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
And here I just stopped going to Whole Foods years ago because I wasn't happy with their selection and prices.
posted by davejay at 10:11 AM on December 2, 2008


I can't imagine what possible rationale there would be for demanding New Season's proprietary business information.

Here in the Portland area, we've come to call Whole Foods "Whole Wallet," as it seems their prices are considerably higher than other competing markets. New Seasons is a much better value and their selection is phenomenal. So as for joining any sort of boycott against Whole Wallet, that is—for me—a fait accompli.

Things were better when the choices here were Nature's (purchased several years ago by Wild Oats), Zupans, and New Seasons. Whole Foods is another insidious conglomerate interested only in maximizing shareholder value at the expense of their customers.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 10:19 AM on December 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


How much you wanna be there's a whole lotta granola crumbs in those files...
posted by scarello at 10:19 AM on December 2, 2008


Are you sure they're not trying to become the Wal-Mart of the natural foods market?
posted by Joe Beese at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2008


WHOLE*MART
posted by Kabanos at 10:26 AM on December 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


WF's anticompetitive behavior sure does seem over the top. If you want to file a consumer complaint against Whole Foods with the Federal Trade Commission, here is the contact page.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2008


You're a bit heavy with the editorial there, GilloD. Mackey’s postings were stupid, but Whole Foods has one of the best business models in the world, and they are consistently ranked one of the best companies in the world to work for. Their stores are run with green energy, their products are selected with an eye for the health of the planet, they donate to many worthwhile causes, and so on. Sure, their prices are higher. You can pay now, or your kids can pay later. Hey--if Maynard James Keenan likes Whole Foods, they can't be all bad. The FTC doesn't blink at far more ominous mergers in, say, the banking or automotive sectors.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


People don't get rich by being honest.
posted by plexi at 10:30 AM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whole Foods is already the Walmart of the natural-foods market. If anybody is trying to become the Walmart of the natural-foods market, it's Walmart.
posted by box at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you sure they're not trying to become the Wal-Mart of the natural foods market?

Looks like Wal-Mart is trying to be the Wal-Mart of that market. That article is 2 years old, and they've only added to their selection since then.

I'd love to shop at a viable alternative to Whole Foods in my city, but there just isn't one as yet. The other chains are closing the gap, and they don't have that smarmy sanctimony that Whole Food's blasts in the HVAC system, but they still don't have the range of decent products all in one place that Whole Foods has. They got where they are now by cutthroat business practices married with not compromising very much on their product selection. One can only hope that with enough market pressure, all grocery stores will sell mainly organic/natural products and we can end the odd distinction between "conventional" and "organic".
posted by Burhanistan at 10:32 AM on December 2, 2008


(lack of preview!)
posted by Burhanistan at 10:32 AM on December 2, 2008


Whole Oats? Wild Foods? Whole Wild Food Oats? Wild Whole Oat Foods? WWhoOF? What will the new company be called?
posted by spicynuts at 10:33 AM on December 2, 2008


You can pay now, or your kids can pay later.

That's a false dichotomy. One can "pay now" for healthy and sustainable food practices without shopping at Whole Foods.

The troubling part is that WF seem to want to eliminate competitors using any means available to it, no matter how troubling, so that when informed consumers decide to "pay now" there are fewer businesses to patronize — and in WF's perspective, it would prefer it is the only option available to you.

In a free fair marketplace, consumers should be able to choose from a variety of food options, and vendors should be allowed to do their business. Whole Foods' attempts to game the legal system seem anticompetitive and counter to that notion of fairness.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


we've come to call Whole Foods "Whole Wallet,"

Down here in the Silicon Valley it's often called "Whole Paycheck".
posted by tkolar at 10:44 AM on December 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


We don't even have a Whole Foods anywhere near us, let alone a New Seasons. (Heh, 7 locations, 5 of which are in Portland. YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG)
posted by DU at 10:45 AM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Heh, 7 locations, 5 of which are in Portland. YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG)

Do you really think about what you type? They are a small family owned business. It took Starbucks a over a decade to branch out from a few stores. They make more money than you do at any rate.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:47 AM on December 2, 2008


Brian and his wife Eileen were one of three families, who along with about 50 of their friends started New Seasons Market back in 1999.

Building up to 7 locations in less than 10 years, while remaining profitable, in a tough market like Portland is not doing it wrong.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:50 AM on December 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


They make more money than you do at any rate.

Touché
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2008


That's a false dichotomy. One can "pay now" for healthy and sustainable food practices without shopping at Whole Foods.

Yours is a false dichotomy, Mr. Pileon. I wasn't saying you had to shop at Whole Foods. I was explaining the philosophy behind their higher prices. You can also buy your organic food at WalMart, or other supermarkets that don't cover the hidden costs or treat their employees as well. That, for the consumer, is a choice--or dichotomy, if you will--but it is not a false one.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:55 AM on December 2, 2008


For some perspective, nearly every civil lawsuit has a negotiated protective order, and it is standard to have a designation for some material to be AEO - Attorneys' Eyes Only. Companies in bitter disputes with their rivals turn over all kinds of information under the AEO designation. Any lawyer that breaks the AEO requirement is subject to sanctions and disbarment.

Even if you dislike Whole Foods, it is jumping to conclusions to suspect that the subpoena will result in the disclosure of sensitive information to Whole Foods executives.

With that legal context, this smells a bit like Whole Foods competitors trying to stop incurring the cost of answering the subpoena and the airing of their own dirty laundry by appealing to the general public with a frankly false assumption about how lawyers keep confidences.
posted by Muddler at 10:58 AM on December 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


You can also buy your organic food at WalMart, or other supermarkets that don't cover the hidden costs or treat their employees as well.

This bears repeating. I've seen many of the same employees at Whole Foods for years now, and they tend to get promoted and cross trained in other departments. They also tend to be friendly and recognize me. Contrast with Wal-Mart/Kroger/etc where employees last at best a year and do their best to remain faceless and unhelpful. It's really kind of facile to just write off Whole Foods as an evil corporate pirate ship or something. Yes, their top management is kind of ruthless in their acquisition strategy, but beneath that there are lot of positive activities in the organization. We would all love to buy fresh and artisanal food from the corner farm-to-market but living in a big city involves some degree of compromise.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


GilloD: Of course, they promise that no one other than the lawyers will see the records.

Yes, that's generally how it works. Oh, I get it, Whole Foods is EEEEEEEEEEVIL. GYOB.

Besides, this sounds like a lot of tempest in a teapot. Whole Foods, concerned with anti-trust issues over its planned takeover of Wild Oats, subpoenas the business records of a regional competitor in an attempt to show that these kinds of businesses can still succeed alongside it. Big Deal.

(I shop, and work, at my local coop. Nyah)
posted by mkultra at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I lived a couple blocks from a New Seasons back in pdx. They are saints, and they ran the most wonderful grocery stores in the world. I wish they'd start a bunch down here in LA :( Trader Joe has been kind to me, but it's just not as awesome.

Whole Paycheck is down here, but meh.
posted by mullingitover at 11:11 AM on December 2, 2008


Muddler, the CEO admitted he engaged in deliberate attempts to manipulate the market thru his probably illegal postings. You really think Whole Foods is staffed by ethical people who obey the letter of the law, must less it's spirit? I certainly wouldn't trust their staff attorney to be any more honest than the people he works for.
posted by nomisxid at 11:15 AM on December 2, 2008


For those complaining about the prices at Whole Foods, according to Michael Pollan, we should be paying more for our produce. Much, much more, especially when it comes to meat. So we should all probably go to Whole Wallet and even give the people there large tips as preparation for the future. And if you're poor, well according to Mr. Pollan you eat too much anyway. Maybe you can eat legal documents.
posted by happyroach at 11:24 AM on December 2, 2008


Whole Foods doesn't even need to see the records to gain an unfair advantage: knowledge (in a general sense) of the competitiveness of another organic grocery store. New Seasons can fight and incur painful legal fees, or roll over and let Whole Foods know via proxy how strong or weak they really are. Whether Whole Foods is a "good" or "evil" business is besides the point -- they're using the legal system to hurt a third-party competitor, and I think New Seasons has a right to expect some privacy.
posted by swift at 11:28 AM on December 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I certainly wouldn't trust their staff attorney to be any more honest than the people he works for.

Then it's fortunate the subpoena requires New Seasons to turn over the information to Whole Foods' outside counsel, not their staff attorney.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:32 AM on December 2, 2008


they are consistently ranked one of the best companies in the world to work for.

So is Starbucks, but look at them:

Starbucks insures an even lower percentage of its work force than Wal-Mart does: 40.9 percent, as calculated from figures the company disclosed to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year (about 47 percent of Wal-Mart workers have company insurance). Spokeswoman Tara Darrow deflected TBM's questions about the percentage of employees covered by company insurance, preferring to emphasize that 88 percent of the workers are covered by some form of insurance—which could be Medicaid, or a parent's or spouse's plan—and that 65 percent of "eligible" employees are covered by the company plan.

Don't be fooled, all this "best companies to work for" crap means next to nothing.
posted by symbollocks at 11:40 AM on December 2, 2008


Muddler, the CEO admitted he engaged in deliberate attempts to manipulate the market thru his probably illegal postings. You really think Whole Foods is staffed by ethical people who obey the letter of the law, must less it's spirit? I certainly wouldn't trust their staff attorney to be any more honest than the people he works for.

A CEO is caught doing one (admittedly significant) unethical thing and suddenly the whole company is staffed with crooks? That's just asinine trolling.

This post is a total trainwreck. It's poorly written, which is leading to commenters to completely disregard any sense of reality or logic and just apply their own "I hate any big corporate entities" feelings toward Whole Foods.

Did I miss anything, hippies?
posted by mkultra at 11:43 AM on December 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


You don't win friends with salad!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2008


This post comment is a total trainwreck. It's poorly written, which is leading to commenters me to completely disregard any sense of reality or logic and just apply their my own "I hate any big corporate entities hippies" feelings toward Whole Foods Metafilter.
posted by swift at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Did I miss anything, hippies?

You forgot to quote South Park.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:51 AM on December 2, 2008


This post comment is a total trainwreck. It's poorly written, which is leading to commenters me to completely disregard any sense of reality or logic and just apply their my own "I hate any big corporate entities hippies" feelings toward Whole Foods Metafilter.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
posted by RussHy at 11:58 AM on December 2, 2008


DU, if your comment means, "You are not expanding beyond a limited geographic area", it may be wrong from your perspective, and I make no claim to know NS business plan, but it could be part of their culture.
This next part is local lore, so please don't expect links, just hanging in pdx for 16 of the last 20 years. Imagine perception trumping reality... it happens.
We had a Wild Oats in our 'hood, circa 1995. One of two or three in Portland. While not a co-op, a sorta old-school organic/natural foods market. Not a "retail experience." I think they only had these stores. They were bought by Whole Foods. This purchase did result in a "freshening" of the look and feel of the WO stores(now called Whole Foods). Rumor was that some of WO long-time employees (management/supervisor level) were chafing under the new "corporate" culture. Plus, they were now answering to HQ Austin, TX.
Some of these folks bolted to join the New Seasons team. NS nailed the "retail experience" part, and kept/included the "culture" of the old-school market. Maybe NS would like to be in Seattle and SF, but not if they can't "keep it real."
Seems like WF is stinging from getting punked by former employees/upstart company in a market they dominate in most regions.
I truly empathize for your lack of these types of natural markets. They have even forced the local Ubermart (Fred Mayer owned by Kroger's) to put a small, but decent natural/health/organic area in their stores.
posted by secondhand at 12:06 PM on December 2, 2008


As a small business owner, I can understand how horrifying this is for New Seasons -- OF COURSE any of their internal structural/financial information would be used against them by their bigger competitor, anyone who does not see this does not understand how the business world works. As someone who lives in Portland, I will be switching my shopping to New Seasons even though Whole Foods is a bit closer to where I live. I always liked New Seasons better, anyway.
posted by dacoit at 12:16 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Um, it makes a lot of sense. This is a question of comparables. Antitrust litigation involves determining if a merger will reduce competition to a point where the consumer is overly harmed. Such a comparison involves determining exactly who the market players are, which is no easy task, given the millions of who the competitors of the firms in question are and who are the comparable market players.

Its going to be covered by a protective order. This is standard operating procedure and just grabbing on to whatever New Seasons says is not really looking at the whole picture.

Whole Foods, like them or not, is entitled to a fair trial on the merits of this complaint. If they can't get a fair trial, then the FTC won't be able to stop the merger.

Just because you don't like Whole Foods doesn't mean that there is some nefarious plot here and I wouldn't take New Seasons word for it, even if they are *saints*.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:16 PM on December 2, 2008


This sounds to me like a standard legal thing that has gotten a bit out of hand. All I know is I like Whole Foods (Cambridge, MA) - they have a good selection. If they have morphed into an evil corporation, it doesn't seem to me that the evil has trickled down into lower management or their products.

*runs for cover under a barrage of local organic granola*
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2008


mkultra, the idea that if the root of the tree is rotten, somehow the branches will grow untainted fruit seems ridiculously naive. I"m not saying ever person who works at Whole Foods is as bad as their CEO, but I'm saying the possiblity that he's the only bad apple is zero. Most people prefer to work with people who are like-minded, and a CEO can have strong influence on the makeup on of upper management, as well as the hiring polices at all levels of the company. Look at how many staff at Whole Foods spoke up against what their CEO was doing...are you still counting because there were so many, or because you still can't find a single person who spoke up?
posted by nomisxid at 1:02 PM on December 2, 2008


8 years ago, Portland Maine had a Wild Oats, a Whole Grocer, and a local greengrocer, all on "the peninsula," as the downtown part of Portland is known.

Now we have one giant new big-box Whole Foods. That's it.

I hate Whole Foods because their business model is fundamentally opposed to the supposed goals of organic food. To be big, they have to source in great quantity. To source in great quantity they have to deal with a relatively small number of very large producers. Yes, very good, your small number of large farms are organic. They're still factory monocultures shipping stuff by truck all over the country.

If Whole Foods was taking over from, say, Wal-Marts or massive conventional grocery chains, that would be one thing. A small improvement, but still at least an improvement. But they're not. They're strangling small local organic shops and buying up anyone big enough to compete with them. That is to say, they are a step backward in the overall picture -- they are killing "small," "community-based," and "local" and keeping only the "organic."

They're also egregiously expensive. We used to shop at Wild Oats pretty often. Whole Foods is clearly more expensive, and nothing there is worth the premium. I can get organic veggies and a much larger selection of locally grown and caught foods at Hannaford's -- which is, for me in Maine, also a locally owned business.

So here's me hoping that the economic downturn will catch Whole Foods overextended and take it down. Don't worry, organic foodies. There's plenty of demand and plenty of supply and shops will appear to continue filling it. In the meantime, eat local.
posted by rusty at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


(FWIW, no hating meant on anyone who works for Whole Foods -- my problem is with the structure and goals of the business -- the whole big-box Wal-Mart mindset they've embraced, not the people who work there. Although the CEO does sound like a world-class douche.)
posted by rusty at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2008


I love the New Seasons in my neighborhood - especially the service when compared to a Whole Foods. However the true death match would be a Whole Foods versus a Wegmans. Even with Ditka on their side, Whole Foods would fall into the middle of the earth.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 1:32 PM on December 2, 2008


happyroach: I hate to break this to you, but meat isn't produce. (Nor for that matter, are the kind of empty calorie prepared foods Pollan is talking about in his article.)
posted by aspo at 1:36 PM on December 2, 2008


You know, there's an easy solution to this: GO TO YOUR LOCAL FARMER'S MARKETS. It's cheaper, it's local and there's no evil corporate overlord.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think we got a little ways away from my intention in posting the article, although I clearly see where I worded it to encourage anti-WF sentiment. I didn't mean to make this a WF bash-fest, rather I was approaching it as a sort of... What happens when your cute, hip company gets really big? And the answer is: It becomes like any other big, un-hip grocery and the bottom-line starts to look like the whole story. That applies everywhere, but I think it was sort of, uh, surprising to see WF act in this manner given that most criticisms of their business tend to be surface-deep (Full of yuppies, strollers, overpriced etc etc).
posted by GilloD at 2:02 PM on December 2, 2008


I think we got a little ways away from my intention in posting the article

Well, in all fairness, that is probably because you didn't grasp that this is kind of standard legal operating procedure in anti-trust cases like this, rather than some kind of maniacal suit cackling and rubbing his hands together.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2008


GO TO YOUR LOCAL FARMER'S MARKETS. It's cheaper, it's local and there's no evil corporate overlord.

My local farmer's market sells bananas, avocados, and pineapples. In Manhattan.

OF COURSE any of their internal structural/financial information would be used against them by their bigger competitor, anyone who does not see this does not understand how the business world works.

I think I understand how the business world works, and I can't really understand how WF would get a very meaningful operating advantage from this data. It's retail, not specialty chemicals or ultra-pure water. The merchandising, advertising, and unit pricing are visible, the revenues can be estimated by measuring footfall and eye-checking average basket size, the fixed cost structure is readily estimable, and the stuff that's sold is near enough to functionally equivalent across retailers. What does that leave, suppliers? Just watch the loading dock for two days. Oh, yes, I forgot about strategic plans! I'm sure that WF couldn't shake a few dollars out of its eight billion in annual revenue to hire a better GIS consultancy than the one employed by the good people at New Seasons.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


GilloD ....see WF act in this manner given that most criticisms of their business tend to be surface-deep...

Surface deep is good enough for me: Their premium pricing (even comparing the same or similar products with New Seasons, et.al.) is sufficient reason for a value-conscious shopper to go elsewhere (the same reason I avoid Safeway). Beyond that, WF is, by dint of their past business practices, as well as their current demand for strategic marketing plans from their sole remaining competition, their movement of cash out of the local economy, and—because of their size—their need to adopt megastore supply chain logistics, is only all the more reason to eschew that shopping experience—arguable legal apologetics aside.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 3:23 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kwantsar is exactly right: there's nothing of any operational value in any documents Whole Foods might - perhaps - see that you can't get by employing a decent competitive intelligence shop. It'd be a six to eight week project and run you 15-20K.
posted by digitalprimate at 3:46 PM on December 2, 2008


It looks as if they're using Portland to show the FTC that they are surrounded on all sides by fierce competition. (Portland being such a typical American city in this regard, what with its four viable co-ops, New Seasons, and several TJs.)
posted by pernoctalian at 3:51 PM on December 2, 2008


Be glad you have competition, even if it is over the top and striving for monopolies. I'd even settle for a grocery store that could be arsed. You get to shop for what you want. I feel like I forage for what I can find.
posted by srboisvert at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2008


As another Portlander, I much prefer New Seasons to Whole Foods -- New Seasons has far superior produce, with a wider variety, better prices, and a much larger percentage that's organic, seasonal, and/or grown locally (except for citrus and tropical fruit, which we don't do so well here). The overall feeling of the store is friendly, sustainable and local, though they also do stock national brands and things like Doritos alongside the bulk lentils and hemp baby clothes.

But in reality, I still go to Whole Foods about 30% of the time, because it's a pleasant five-minute walk through my neighborhood, while New Seasons is a 12-minute drive. And, as far as evil empires go, WF isn't THAT bad. The employees are friendly, and their house brands (365) is somewhat fairly priced, and they have free samples out all the time. And -- because they don't sell anything with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or artificial colors or flavors -- they support a lot of smaller, more natural producers of prepackaged products. (My five-minute walk there also takes me past a Coca-Cola "syrup plant," which I imagine is full of bubbling vats of high fructose corn syrup; eck.) (On the third hand, Trader Joe's also has lots of relatively natural prepackaged products for cheaper.)

Now that the WF/Wild Oats merger is done, I don't see why WF would need to peek into the private papers of New Seasons, or any other regional competitor. WF is still somewhat popular in Portland, despite its Whole Wallet nickname -- but if they mess with the beloved New Seasons, the pitchforks will come out.
posted by lisa g at 3:57 PM on December 2, 2008


aspo: Sorry myself, but the policies the man proposes are designed to raise the prices of all foods: groceries, meats, snacks, and the rest. Evidently his reasoning is that if snack and fast foods have major price raises, the middle class and struggling will switch to shopping at Whole Foods instead of going for even cheaper generic stuff. And for those who are poor enough to have to eat generics? Well they shouldn't be eating so much anyway.

Typical thinking from a member of the elite class who will never have to worry about affording groceries.
posted by happyroach at 4:16 PM on December 2, 2008


there's nothing of any operational value in any documents Whole Foods might - perhaps - see that you can't get by employing a decent competitive intelligence shop. It'd be a six to eight week project and run you 15-20K.

If that was really true, WF would have taken that minor risk, instead, and saved themselves unavoidable bad publicity from openly using the government to help put New Seasons out of business. Still, we gotta defend Whole Foods at all cost. Those WF-hating hippies are worse than terrorists and PETA combined.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:28 PM on December 2, 2008


If that was really true, WF would have taken that minor risk, instead, and saved themselves unavoidable bad publicity from openly using the government to help put New Seasons out of business

Oh, you'd be surprised. There are a still a few fairly high profile companies (one in particular mentioned tangentially in this thread) who don't run CI operations at all.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:41 PM on December 2, 2008


And if the information is so readily available off the cuff, why the frontal assault (the second in as many years) on New Seasons for the data?
posted by spacely_sprocket at 4:43 PM on December 2, 2008


And if the information is so readily available off the cuff, why the frontal assault (the second in as many years) on New Seasons for the data?

Well, I don't think this is really about the data. Of course, I could be mistaken, but there's very little short of actual trade secrets you can't get legally and relatively easily. So, I wouldn't think the small chance WF would gain some competitive advantage from the data per se is really is the issue.

And just to clarify, this type of competitive information isn't really off the cuff; it's not just secondary published or syndicated data. It's requires primary research, i.e., talking to enough people about the right things in the right way.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:59 PM on December 2, 2008


God I love grocery threads here, it's the most direct source of Internet-based smugness around.
posted by aerotive at 5:06 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I try to avoid Whole Foods like the plague. Trader Joe's has better stuff., or the same stuff, for a fraction of the price. Why throw your money away at Whole Foods? I don't understand it at all.
posted by MythMaker at 6:27 PM on December 2, 2008


Don't be fooled, all this "best companies to work for" crap means next to nothing.

That may be true, but in the case of Whole Foods it really is good, especially if you compare it to other grocery/food retail. Their health insurance is decent (not at all great, but again I'm comparing it to like businesses, not to Microsoft), the pay is pretty good, the culture is fairly transparent (all pay is public, for example). My info may be a little out of date -- my wife worked there a decade ago, and back then she and her coworkers were all very positive about it -- especially since most of them had worked in other retail environments that were absolute crap.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:36 PM on December 2, 2008


I like Trader Joe's pricing and I'll buy prepared foods there, mostly to keep at the office for lunch, but I don't like the fact that you can't tell who makes their house-branded stuff or where it comes from. I'm guessing that it's at least USA-sourced because if it weren't they'd presumably be obliged at least to say what country it comes from, but I'd like some reassurance that it's made somewhere that has some sort of standards about hygiene and industrial contaminants. Some relationship with local suppliers would be nice too, both for carbon reasons and the fact that I'd rather spend money on people who are going to spend it in my community. That not being the case, quick foods for working lunches are all I get there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:48 PM on December 2, 2008


If they get nothing else out of it, they'll have forced some legal and administrative costs on a competitor and possibly intimidated them. One might argue that any intimidation felt is self-inflicted, which detracts none from the advantage gained. If New Seasons wasn't watching their backs before this, they had better be now, and that sort of vigilance costs time and money and will be bourne by those who shop there one way or another.
posted by wobh at 6:55 PM on December 2, 2008


Ack! its "borne" as in "carried." I thought that looked that looked funny.
posted by wobh at 7:00 PM on December 2, 2008


When do we get the "hate on Trader Joe's" thread? I can't wait for that one!
posted by flummox at 7:08 PM on December 2, 2008


I worked at the local WholeFoods here in Vancouver, watched as they wedged their way into the market and bought out the local overpriced natural foods chain, Capers. They are good to their employees, but they demand a lot. I found their greatest hindrance in both worker happiness and product quality/value is their insane international managerial bureaucracy. I know at least some of their management that's developed them has come from Starbucks, and they have really succeeded in drafting protocol and chipper phraseology for just about everything. They are not as cultish as some, such as Vancouver corporate yoga fashion monster Lululemon, but they do have insistent ideological indoctrination of community organic empowerment that runs entirely counter the profit mad gouging they exercise in.

Watching this debate is really weird, I don't know if everyone is just projecting their Americo-regionalist feuds and stereotypes around but the debate seems a little farcical. Like, Blazecock, I honestly cannot tell if you are being sarcastic or not saying things like this:

Still, we gotta defend Whole Foods at all cost. Those WF-hating hippies are worse than terrorists and PETA combined.
posted by kaspen at 7:25 PM on December 2, 2008


My local farmer's market sells bananas, avocados, and pineapples. In Manhattan.

Are you talking about those dudes with the cart on the corner? That's not a farmer's market. Get thee to Union Square. (Or any other Greenmarket.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 7:28 PM on December 2, 2008


food front
posted by snofoam at 8:11 PM on December 2, 2008


To those who like to defend Whole Foods as THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE to standard groceries I have this to say:

Go find a local co-op, or (as previously mentioned) find a farmer's market. OR, as even the excellent Michael Pollan glossed over, join a CSA. In season you can pay for vegetables at far less cost than going to even a super market by going to one of those three sources.

What this poster was referencing is only a small amount of what Pollan discusses in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. And he does point out that food often costs so much at places like Whole Foods because of its delicacy (physical, not rareness) and the difficulties inherent in shipping fresh foods.

My problem with Whole Foods: they break contracts. In Wisconsin last year we had a bad flood. Whole Foods was buying some local vegetables (particularly potatoes) for their store in Madison. When our Governor declared a few counties as disaster areas Whole Foods categorically broke their buying contracts with those local farmers (a few of whom lost significant income because of this) regardless of whether their crops had sustained flood damage or not.

So, screw Whole Foods.
posted by Severian at 9:18 PM on December 2, 2008


Like, Blazecock, I honestly cannot tell if you are being sarcastic or not saying things like this:

I'm being sarcastic. The "hippy" comments in this thread are typically mindless drivel.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2008


I really can't comment on Whole Foods, since I've only shopped there a few times out of curiosity for their prices. However, I really don't appreciate them bullying my favorite local grocery store.

I live very close to a New Seasons store. When I made the decision to change my way of eating (seasonal, organically grown, local), New Seasons was the perfect place to go. While sometimes frustrating, I actually appreciate the produce department's response when I can't find something: "Sorry! Not in season locally". I regularly talk to employees that know me by name about their working conditions and they consistently gush about the company. Somethings are outrageously expensive in their store, like their supplement section, but if I buy their products on special (usually the seasonal produce) then my monthly food costs are not a whole lot higher than shopping at a larger grocery store.

If you really want to eat organically and locally for cheap, try a CSA. We signed up for one this spring-fall season. For 16 dollars a week, we got enough fruits and vegetables to feed 2 omnivores, with some purchased meat every once and a while. We drove out to the farm (a small distance) and met the family that ran the farm, saw where our food was grown and experienced a whole new appreciation for our food.

I really hope the FTC realizes the absurdity of this subpoena and it gets crushed into oblivion. There is no sane reason for Whole Foods to request market studies, renovation plans, strategic plans and financial records. Portlanders will not take kindly to this kind of behavior.
posted by arwulf at 2:12 AM on December 3, 2008


New Seasons rules and I support them because they rule and it would be foolhardy if not disingenuous to oppose or defy my rulers.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:32 AM on December 3, 2008


I ache for you fellow yippie (or yuppie or hipstie or whatever the frack Time is calling it this year) folks who actually have choices for organic/natural markets. Here in FL, Whole Foods has actually been a boon in providing a wide selection of organic produce that previously was not available. We were practically thrilled when they opened a location within 20 miles of us. And while it's definitely a premium as opposed to buying at, say, Walmart, it's still fairly relative when compared to the other big box grocers (Publix, Albertsons). And the net result has been the other big box stores are starting to fight back -- some Publix stores now have almost half an aisle of natural stock on the shelves. That's a big improvement.

So, meh. Basically I'm envious of you northerners and I wish WF was a little bit cheaper but meh.
posted by cavalier at 5:12 AM on December 3, 2008


Blazecock Pileon: I'm being sarcastic. The "hippy" comments in this thread are typically mindless drivel.

The only "mindless drivel" in this thread is from people like you who don't understand how the legal system works, ignore the responses of people offering perfectly reasonable analyses of what's happening, and think that Evil Whole Foods is engaging in some kind of nefarious plot to undermine Saintly New Seasons. They should have hired a marketing firm? This is a legal proceeding. FFS, just stop.
posted by mkultra at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2008


Mkultra- I think we all agree that this is not an unprecedented legal event. It happens. However, it is bizarre for Whole Foods to drag one of it's only remaining competitors into court under the seemingly unrelated pretenses regarding a dispute they're not involved in. Further, with a history of classically dirty tricks under their belt, I hope you can understand the general skepticism that we can trust their paid lawyers to keep things above board.

For any business looking to aggressively expand their market share, how could they be trusted with the secrets of their competitors? I think presuming that this is all well and good and legal and fine is just as naive and short-sighted as presuming that it's all an EVVVVILLL conspiracy.
posted by GilloD at 8:46 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


mkultura, apparently NS's lawyers don't understand how the legal system works, per you. Their motion to quash pretty plainly lays out the case for it being at best unreasonably burdensome and at worst giving up the keys to the store. NS has no obligation to surrender all its business information to its vastly larger hegemonic competitor for the explicit purpose of assisting the latter fight a challenge to its pursuit of market dominance. And even if it weren't burdensome, and even if they could trust the FTC to protect the information (something it's apparently quite bad at) and WF's legal team to compartmentalize their knowledge forever after (because, y'know, they're just so above board that way) it's still hugely counter to NS's interests to provide this assistance at all.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Evil Whole Foods

There he goes again.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


GilloD: For any business looking to aggressively expand their market share, how could they be trusted with the secrets of their competitors?

Because that's how the legal system works. Breaches of confidentiality are serious business.

George_Spiggott: NS has no obligation to surrender all its business information to its vastly larger hegemonic competitor for the explicit purpose of assisting the latter fight a challenge to its pursuit of market dominance.

I encourage you to actually read the subpoena, which lays out the specific request, which is not "all business information". This stuff is common in legal proceedings. NS's lawyers are simply dragging this into the public arena, portraying it as, to use your words, "they keys to the store", to garner sympathy.

Blazecock Pileon: There he goes again.

There he goes again, indeed. Do you have anything constructive to add, or is it just that you have to have the last word?
posted by mkultra at 10:07 AM on December 3, 2008


Do you have anything constructive to add

When you so badly and repeatedly mischaracterize the views of people who disagree with you, perhaps you might ask yourself that question. What can anyone really add to your "Evil Hippy" diatribes?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:28 AM on December 3, 2008


Blazecock Pileon: When you so badly and repeatedly mischaracterize the views of people who disagree with you

Please, point out where I badly and repeatedly do this. Actually, just point out where I do it once. Is it because I, once and off-handedly in jest, used the word "hippies"? Grow up.
posted by mkultra at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2008


I think presuming that this is all well and good and legal and fine is just as naive and short-sighted as presuming that it's all an EVVVVILLL conspiracy.

GilloD, while your truism that "the truth lies somewhere in the middle" works, your blatant editorializing and linking to a completely one-sided account of the issue speak louder than your disingenuous appeals.

Take a good, hard look at your post. Most of your links are to the New Seasons website. Does the company have an agenda? Of course. They're attempting to use public opinion and outcry as evidence that Whole Foods is trying to steal their financial information and create a larger "monopoly". They're spinning the merger exactly how a competitor would spin it: Whole Foods is like Microsoft or Wal-Mart and you citizens and customers should stand up against them.

And that's precisely what you've done. You have no legal argument against what's going on. You have no financial argument for why this is wrong, nor do you point to any precedents (past transactions). All you have is a bunch of links to Whole Foods' competitor, whose interest is to take market share away from Whole Foods. Congrats on your top-notch investigative journalism.


On a side note, the front page is being filled with this kind of editorial garbage and I'm getting tired of it. It's bad enough that people link to any financial editorial and pass it off as "the truth" (god knows this place was notorious for editorializing during the election), but now we're just going to company websites and passing that shit off as fact as well?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seize,

I think you're right- I should have worded my post better. However, the point remains. It is WholeFood themselves who have claimed to want to be the "Microsoft" of natural food grocery. That's a link from the FTC. The trolling done by their CEO is a link to the NYTimes.

The other links refer specifically to the case at hand and therefore I chose to link to their blog. I think any MeFi-ite can understand that the New Seasons blog is obviously partial. I cast this in the light I saw it in- I understand now that that was a mistake. But individual users are welcome to parse that information any way they like.
posted by GilloD at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2008


Yours is a false dichotomy, Mr. Pileon. I wasn't saying you had to shop at Whole Foods. I was explaining the philosophy behind their higher prices. You can also buy your organic food at WalMart, or other supermarkets that don't cover the hidden costs or treat their employees as well. That, for the consumer, is a choice--or dichotomy, if you will--but it is not a false one.

We're really, really lucky to have a thriving urban market (I'm talking about Reading Terminal) and a robust farmer's market program here, so we have plenty of grocery-store alternatives. It's not Whole Foods versus an evil-er empire for many people.

I rarely buy produce at Whole Foods because I'm frustrated that they sell so little local fruits and veggies, even in the very height of summer. In Philly. Where we are swimming in a ridonkulous bounty of local produce from Lancaster and South Jersey. That said, I appreciate that the outfit is apparently so good to their employees and carries the brand of kefir that I like.
posted by desuetude at 5:08 PM on December 3, 2008


This reads awesome in the voice of Comic Book Guy.
posted by rusty at 7:16 PM on December 3, 2008


The Oregonian's Editorial Board on the issue.
posted by arwulf at 8:53 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


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