Environmental Care or Greed?

fresh produce

Is Whole Foods Market an Exemplar of Environmental Care or Just Plain Greed?

There is quite a bit of chatter about the integrity of Whole Foods Market and the products they carry for the prices. Many would argue that Whole Foods, otherwise known as “Whole Paycheck” has overprices produce and questionable integrity. However, after reading a few articles about the company, their views of corporate social responsibility and their concern for the community, I believe that they are using genius marketing techniques to make their products seem better, when really they are not extra special or more environmentally friendly than other foods in the grocery store.

Time U.S. put out an article discussing Whole Foods’ corporate social responsibility, their non-profit sectors and their passion for building communities. In Englewood, a part of Chicago known for its vacant buildings and high rate of crime, people were shocked to hear that Whole Foods was coming to town. This is a place where 44% of people live under the poverty line, and it is certainly not up-and-coming.

Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods Market tells Time that “This was a bit of a stretch for us, but it’s the next stretch. And it’s one that makes sense.” Isn’t Whole Foods Market for trophy wives and CEOs? Apparently not… Walter Robb’s objective was to bring lower-than-average prices and a wider variety of food choices to a community which sadly does not have much access to fresh produce. He describes this move not as “charity”, but as a business with real focus.

The new store in Englewood was projected to create 100 jobs in the community, while working with the community college right nearby. This would give college students and other residents the opportunity to work for a company with strong values which seeks to give back to the community. Whole Foods Kids Foundation, a nonprofit donated $20,000 toward creating urban gardens in Englewood. Another $100,000 was presented on behalf of Whole Foods Market to Growing Home, which is a transitional job-training farm program which would include three local farms. Many were hopeful that the opening of Whole Foods would promote retail development in the area to further contribute to the building-up of the local economy. A 2007 study found that property values around Whole Foods Market’s would typically increase around 17.5%. There have been several other Whole Food Markets’ placed in struggling neighborhoods, such an areas in Detroit and Boston’s Jamaica plains.

CNN Money posted an article arguing the reasons why Whole Foods is just not worth the expense. For starters, all produce has a carbon footprint. In other words, your mangoes did not walk here from South America – fuel was used to haul this produce around to different Whole Foods Market locations. Whole Foods Market supplies a minuscule amount of locally grown produce. On the topic of produce, not all produce is worth buying organic. Since pesticides are not used in the process of growing produce, anything with thinner, more permeable skin such as apples or grapes are more worth purchasing organic. However, an avocado or an orange is much less likely to absorb a harmful amount of pesticides.

Whole Foods Market also carry junk food. They might make their cookies look healthy and diet-friendly when they stuff them into recycled paper bags, but they are still made from butter and sugar. In fact, CNN points out that their round crackers are higher in fat and calories than Ritz. They also carry an array of in-store prepped foods. They present them nicely and use organic ingredients, however you cannot see the nutrition label and have no idea how healthy – or not – these foods are.

From this research, Whole Foods Market does not seem to be 100 percent “good hearted”, instead it seems that the company is trying to profit off of good marketing tactics (which seem to be working). By making the community feel that this company will bring in more jobs and more income, while the prices for their products still maintain unrealistic for the poverty levels within each community. It is up to us as individuals to better educate ourselves about the products we buy and put into our bodies every day.

Sooner than later,

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18 Comment

  1. Michele says:

    I shopped in Whole Foods a couple of times but the prices were just too high compared to the stores in the same geographic area. I don’t totally buy into the organic movement either (I do have an environmental sci degree) because if even one farm uses pesticides–the wind can and will blow it over to the “organic” farm. I do like that they try to help the communities they serve even if it is a marketing strategy–let’s face it–what company is really totally straight!

  2. This is very interesting.
    I don’t think we have one of those places here, or nearby to me, but I”m always cautious about any company who says one thing and it seems fishy.

    I suppose they didn’t expect too much scrutiny?

  3. I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods. I like the idea of feeding my family organic foods, but not if I have to win the lottery to do so.

  4. Rosey says:

    Yep, I’m going to have to agree with Robin on this one. And you’re right, every food does have somewhat of a carbon footprint. It’s inevitable to get it from one place to another.

  5. “Isn’t Whole Foods Market for trophy wives and CEOs?” <<< Love it! That is what I have always thought. :)

  6. Melanie says:

    I have never shopped at Whole Foods. We have a local one, but I have never been there!

  7. Great article. Lots of info that I did not know. We do not have a Whole Foods around here.

  8. Jenny says:

    One reason why I hardly ever go to Whole Foods.. costs a fortune and how ORGANIC is it truly? Makes you wonder.

  9. Great info on a concept that made some people a lot of money!

  10. Amanda @ Erickson & Co. says:

    I like eating organic food, but I like eating locally even more. I’m not always a fan of something just because it is labeled “organic”. There are too many things that can be sprayed or used in organic food that the FDA considers to be safe. I would much rather purchase from someone local who doesn’t use anything on their food/produce and doesn’t pay to have their food labeled “organic”. Also a lot of things that are labeled as “organic” that are prepackaged are really not that healthy anyways. Which is why I don’t really like shopping at whole foods.

  11. Mary says:

    Like others mentioned “organic” designation is pretty vague. I think Whole Foods saw a new market and went for it. I don’t begrudge them the success. I have heard that they are great to work for.

    But as others have also said you can look closer to home for local organic produce. It would be cheaper and you are supporting your community.

  12. I love Whole Foods but it’s not practical to shop there for a family of 7. They are super expensive. I started shopping at Trader Joe’s and their prices are so much affordable!

  13. Emily P says:

    This is interesting. I like Whole Foods because they carry products that no other store around here carries, but there are better organic food stores.

  14. I like the diversity of what they have at Whole Foods, but I can admit that the prices can be a bit ridiculous at times.

  15. Debra says:

    The closest whole food is about an hour away, so I don’t get up there often.

  16. Krystal says:

    Now there is some food for thought. Thanks for sharing this. It was truly an interesting read.

  17. I think shopping smart is always important. We should blindly believe the marketing but buy what we can be sure is good for us, even if it means going to more than one shop and sometimes even paying more.

  18. All good points but I am a frequent shopper. I think you always get what you pay for and with Whole Foods, though it can be expensive, the presentations are always great and I guess you do take a risk with everything you buy, don’t you? I think it’s an individual choice. But all really good points here.

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