After writing about mega health food chain Whole Foods’ colossal losses on Tuesday, we were a more than a little eyebrow-raisingly interested to read “We sell junk says Whole Foods boss” emblazoned across the top of one of the Evening Standard’s inner pages.
Had CEO John Mackey decided to throw in the towel with a frustration so reckless he cared not if he destroyed the entire corporation’s reputation? Was he so ridden with guilt at the money he’d cost the firm he needed some kind of cathartic purge, perhaps, denouncing the quality of his firm’s produce and exposing its true nature? Was this his very own Ratner moment?
Well no, actually. As it turns out, the Evening Standard had just decided to kick a business right in the guts when it was already trembling on the floor.
The Standard had framed a quote from Mackey in an interview he did with the Wall Street Journal as follows:
“The chief executive of Whole Foods said he had betrayed shoppers instead of leading a nutritious food revolution in London.
“John Mackey said the so-called health store had stuffed its shelves with fat-laden treats as he called on retailers to take responsibility for educating customers about healthy eating. [...]
“Mr Mackey said: ‘We sell a bunch of junk. We've decided if Whole Foods doesn't take a leadership role in educating people about a healthy diet, who the heck is going to do it?’ [...]
“[Whole Foods] vowed to stop welcoming customers with piles of giant meringues, white bread and chocolate cakes and offer in-store nutrition experts instead.”
Sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? But here’s what Mackey actually told the WSJ: "Basically, we used to think it was enough just to sell healthy food, but we know it is not enough. We sell all kinds of candy. We sell a bunch of junk."
In fact, Mackey is saying in the WSJ interview that, while the stores sell all the nutritious food their brand promises, they also sell some sweeter treats. He goes on to say that the chain is going to introduce various measures to encourage both staff and customers to be healthier. "There will be someone in a kiosk to answer questions, they'll have cookbooks and health books, there will be some cooking classes. It will be about how to select food, because people don't know," he told the WSJ.
He went on to say staff too would be incentivized to look after their nutritional health better, with lower blood pressure and decreased cholesterol being chief aims of the soon-to-come scheme.
This isn’t an admission of deceiving health-conscious customers. It’s a bold, immediate and very admirable attempt to introduce innovative new ideas into a struggling business. The speed with which Mackey responded to news of his company’s troubles, the socially beneficial solutions he has come up with, should be applauded heartily. This is a great lesson in how to do business at the toughest of times.
Frankly, we’re pretty disgusted at the Standard’s decontextualising of quotes and sensationalising of a story (ironically, it’s actually the paper that’s ‘misleading’, don’t you think?). But more than anything, we can’t believe they would so want to damage a business that, even though it may have previously made errors, is obviously now trying its best to recover, just for the sake of a few column inches.