Skip to comments.Whole Foods Quackery
Posted on 04/29/2014 8:03:41 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Fortune has a puff piece out on Whole Foods Market (WFM, a stock in which I have no interest and no intended interest), the up-scale purveyor of excellent prepared food, overpriced groceries with multiple claimed but unsubstantiated benefits, phony health remedies, and the oxymoronic concept of healthy indulgence. It made its reputation by pushing healthier living and selling food that doesnt contain the pesticides and additives that are often staples of regular food.
The Whole Foods approach has worked in that its share price is up about 12-fold since its November 2008 recession-era low versus 130 percent for the S&P 500 index. “Great brands impose a view on you,” WFM consultant Kevin Kelley says, and Whole Foods is no exception. “One of the faults that traditional groceries have is they believe the customer is always right.” Today, Whole Foods has a list of 78 banned ingredients, ranging from aspartame to foie gras to high-fructose corn syrup. You may want a Coke, but you cant get one at Whole Foods.
However, when I took a look at the ingredients that provided Whole Foods its success, the whole thing became far less appetizing. The Whole Foods emphasis on natural foods is obviously silly. There is no such thing as non-natural food. Moreover, at least in the United States, it has no consistent meaning. Indeed, the federal Food and Drug Administration explicitly discourages the food industry from using the term. But that doesnt stop Whole Foods. After all, its working.
Oh that a bit of silliness were the only problem. Despite broad scientific consensus that genetically modified food poses no greater health risks than other types of food, Whole Foods says it will require all its vendors to label products with GMOs by 2018 and suggests (at least by inference) that such food isn’t really good for you. Whole Foods would also have you believe that organic produce (which is, not so coincidentally, much more expensive than “regular” produce) will help you stay healthier, even though a major study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (nicely summarized here) examining hundreds of scientific studies over many years found no evidence of health benefits from organic foods. “There’s a definite lack of evidence,” emphasizes Crystal Smith-Spangler of the Stanford University School of Medicine and an author of the study.
But these issues arent all that much to be really upset about. If people want to overpay for something they think will make them healthier, the fact that it doesnt isnt too big of a deal. Nobodys getting hurt and people are stupid all the time. However, the Whole Foods story gets still worse much worse.
As reported by Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast, Whole Foods pitches homeopathic remedies (such as homeopathic remedies for allergies, homeopathic remedies for colds and flu, Boiron homeopathic medicines and even cures for cancer) as well as other foods and drugs that make medical claims that are simply false. Homeopathy is, after all, pure quackery. Whole Foods also sells probiotics live bacteria given to (allegedly) treat and prevent disease but its a total scam: If you are a normal human, with a normal diet, save your money. Probiotics have nothing to offer but an increased cost.
Phony claims such as these are far more damaging than simply pushing natural and organic foods. Thats because such fake remedies often cause people to forego substantive medical care that might actually help. For example, such an approach may well have cost Steve Jobs his life, to his obvious regret.
Sadly, it isnt just customers who have fallen for the Whole Foods hype. “They’re a leading national authority on health and nutrition,” says BB&T Capital Markets analyst Andrew Wolf, “and unequivocally the leading retailer on the link between food and health.” As if.
My friend Josh Brown even fell for the WFM nonsense: Theres a lesson in the Whole Foods brand that I think carries a great example for my organization and possibly yours as well: The customers are not always right and, more importantly, they sometimes wants [sic] to be told whats best for them and to have harmful options taken away from within their grasp. Unfortunately, what customers are told is all too frequently in error and obviously bad for them, as Whole Foods so aptly demonstrates.
Happily, I have every confidence that Josh is doing right by his clients. And I completely agree with Joshs conclusion: Zealous advocacy is not fascism, and steering a customer away from something they dont need or shouldnt want is just as important as the actual suggestions you are making. But Whole Foods is far from a good example of doing [what] is superior and in the clients best interest. In fact, Whole Foods should be a cautionary tale rather than an exemplar.
Maybe there really is a sucker born every minute and Whole Foods will continue to survive and even thrive despite its bogus marketing. But Id like to think that truth will out, at least eventually.
I have no quarrel with Whole Foods. At least there is competition, and I purchase from both Whole Foods and the competition depending upon my whims.
Methinks we should direct our ire at pure unadulterated scientific incompetance. The EPA is a good start. If one were to sum the entire IQ of that squalid organization, we’d probably still be to the right of the decimal point.
And - of course - the congress that caused this collection of cretins to come into existance is even lower on the intelligence scale. (Statement of the obvious, obviously.)
Even more overpriced than their stock is their merchandise. Seems that if you slap an organic sticker on something that gives you the right to double or triple the price. There is no proof that organic foods are healthier than non-organic foods.
In our area Whole Foods seem no diffrent than Democrat Party HQ. All the Priuses with BHO bumperstickers in the parking lot. A huge gathering spot for all of the local liberals and environmental extremists.
I don’t know if it’s the chain or just the local franchisee, but Whole Foods here in Virginia took a lot of flack for standing up for pro-life politicians.
But I don’t shop there anyway. Waaaayyyy to expensive.
I like that they try and use local produce, in our store the organic is only about 10% more.
And merchandise? Why would you buy that at a market?
Their customer base leans very left, and it’s almost a religion for them. But the owner doesn’t appear down with the agenda. He fought obamacare hard and has rumbled with the unions as well.
They are by far the expensive market in our area. You can save much more shopping at Wal-Mart.
I like the founder. It’s his customers and employees who are way out there.
The beauty of the free market:
If you don’t like it, or their policies, don’t shop there.
Some of us are blessed enough to have the resources to be nearly infinitely picky about what goes into or on our bodies; others don’t care.
the author is free to think ‘silly’ what they want to, just as I am free to pretty much only eat locally grown, organic food from within a 25 mile radius and use personal care products that cost as much as a tank of gas for my Chevy V8 :-). For my body, nothing goes into it that I don’t know ever last detail of how and where it was made, other people are perfectly happy eating any old crap and spend as much on things like kids, TV, cell phones or movies as I do on gourmet cooking :-) But no kids, no debts and two houses paid for, Whole Paycheck, as I call it, is pretty much the only place I shop besides the farmer’s markets and the CSA boxes (Community Supported Agriculture).
Freedom is wonderful
“In our area Whole Foods seem no diffrent than Democrat Party HQ. All the Priuses with BHO bumperstickers in the parking lot. A huge gathering spot for all of the local liberals and environmental extremists.”
Sounds like the Whole Pay Check in our area.
We shop at some of the stores around Whole Pay Check, and enviral whacko warriors are all ways around Whole Pay Check trying get signatures for some enviral whacko program.
One day there were 3 of them, and they were aggressive. I told them I never sign petitions on sidewalks as they end up costing me tax $’s.
One of the thugs got upset, and challenged me. I asked him why in Californiacator land did they need any enviral petitions, when they had Moonbeam as governor, both legislative bodies in Sacaremento and the president in their pockets. He actually grinned and stepped away.
One of my dear little students gave me a $15.00 gift card to Whole Foods.
I was able to but a pint of feta cheese and some crackers and had to make up the difference in cash.
It was quite tasty, but, come on!
A certain segment of the population seems to be attracted to an “elite shopping experience” with all its extra costs. There’s a sense of heightened superiority associated with being able to partake of an indulgence and enjoy one’s ability to spend more for perceived quality.
In short, there’s a huge psychological component to a lot of our shopping habits. Upscale stores understand and exploit this concept very well.
What a pathetic mix of untruths this article contains. Of course there’s a difference between, say, natural and artificial blueberry flavoring.
That broad consensus on GMOs is about as uniform as the agreement on climate change. There haven’t been any long-term tests, but it is known that GMOs cause significant health problems in laboratory animals.
That study on the merits of organic foods was bogus too, since it only addressed differences in nutrients, not the differences in pesticide and herbicide exposure.
Probiotics are gaining respect in the medical world, and they are of significant value once a course of antibiotics has disrupted the healthy yeasts and bacteria in the digestive system.
Sure, there are some products that Whole Foods and other health food stores sell that will likely ultimately be proven to be of no benefit for various health conditions—just as some traditional medicines will likely be discredited.
But if people want to buy organic, non-GMO and other specific foods, this is a free country and WF ought to be free to sell what the customer would like to buy.
What a sorry article!
“Waaaayyyy to expensive.”
There’s a reason Whole Foods is often sarcastically referred to as ‘Whole Paycheck’. I have a friend who works for one up near Portland, and she openly told me, “It’s for rich people who want to think they’re doing something good and show off their Prius or their fixie bike in the parking lot. Hipster central.”
We call it WHole Check instead of Whole Food
Yep, that too.
I live in CA. I know what you mean.
These bastards now force us to carry around shopping bags in our car. They make you pay for them now if you forget. And they started this crap at Whole Foods before they started putting it into effect (by force of law) in other supermarkets as well.
I believe in the free market, but also in caveat emptor. I won't dispute or agree with the arguments that organic foods are healthier than non-organic. However, I have observed that there are fewer obese people in the Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Trader Joes than in the Albertsons and Wal-Marts.
Many times the “organic” produce is cheaper than non-organic at the HEB Stores in Houston.