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Whole Foods: Junk in a Healthy Wrapper


Don't believe the hype.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Love It or Hate It, a regular dual-column feature that will capture the love-hate relationship America has with some of its biggest, most controversial companies. For past columns, click here. For the opposing view on Whole Foods, see Whole Foods: Where Both the Food and the Profits Are Healthy.

Whole Foods Market
(WFMI) says it's the purveyor of "all things good." So when you walk into the Union Square store in Manhattan, why does the entrance look like any other run-of-the-mill supermarket hawking junk food to the hungry impulse shopper?

What if they are Stacy's Pita Chips (PEP) -- seductively called Simply Naked, Rosemary & Black Olive, or Multigrain -- on special at three bags for $7? We're still talking five grams of fat and 270 milligrams of sodium per serving!

And then there's the poetry.

December's holiday special issue of the Whole Foods newsletter "The Whole Deal" is devoted to giving and entertaining. To wit:

Our mission is clear and there's no reason to fudge it,

We're experts at the best parties and giving on a budget.

We kicked "fake" out the door and only welcome what's real;

The authentic, unique and wholesome foods, gifts and meals.

Oh, really? What about the $4.34 gumdrops whose primary ingredients are corn syrup, sugar, and modified corn starch? Or Danielle's Crispy Veggie Chips, which derive nearly 50% of their calories from fat?

Whole Foods co-founder, CEO, and occasional blogger John Mackey likes to position himself as a cross between social media maven, Zen spiritual master, and entrepreneurial genius. He admitted the company has some junk food issues in an interview about the company's new healthy-eating education initiative.

"Basically, we used to think it was enough just to sell healthy food, but we know it is not enough," Mackey told the Wall Street Journal. "We sell all kinds of candy. We sell a bunch of junk."

In 2007, Mackey reduced his annual salary to $1, saying he was "no longer interested in working for money."

He has a special talent for shooting himself in the foot, sparking a national boycott movement of Whole Foods this past August after the Wall Street Journal op-ed piece "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare" in which he took on the proposed US health-care reforms.

That faux pas has yielded a blitz of year-end pro-active publicity with Mackey preaching the Gospel according to John, aka "Conscious Capitalism" in publications as diverse as Fast Company and Condé Nast Traveler.

The executive flamed out visibly using social media a few years back when it was discovered that he used a pseudonym to talk about Whole Foods and the organics industry on Yahoo Finance message boards, in clear violation of the laws governing publicly traded companies.

And then there's the green thing.

You can't escape the word at Whole Foods. It's all over the signage. There's a special recyclable bag you can purchase. Store brand paper products all tout green labels.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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