Whole Foods Market, as the biggest organic supermarket corporation in the United States operates roughly 299 stores: 288 stores in 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia; 6 stores in Canada; and 5 stores in the United Kingdom [Whole Foods Market]. Under its brand, there are two foundations, Whole Kids Foundation and Whole Planet Foundation, and several programs going on [Whole Foods Market]. These two foundations are set to help the communities, with Whole Kids Foundation focusing on supporting schools and inspiring families to improve children’s nutrition and wellness; and Whole Planet Foundation focusing on creating economic partnerships with the poor in the developing-world communities that supply the stores with product. Whole Foods Market promotes its care both on people’s health and diet customs along with its charity works. The company’s ethics were highly praised among the customers and investors. However, after February 2007, when Whole Foods Market acquired its main competitor, Wild Oat’s business, negative voices started to rise in the public, mainly about eliminating competition in this distinct organic food market.
With the expanding of the Whole Foods Market, organic food is more and more popular in families’ kitchen. How does Whole Foods actually help our health? How organic are the products in Whole Foods Market? And how do they present an ethical model in their business?
In this paper, I will discuss the ethical issues with Whole Foods Market and its products.
Part 1: Whole Foods and Its Organic Products
“Our business is to sell the highest quality foods we can find at the most competitive prices possible. We evaluate quality in terms of nutrition, freshness, appearance, and taste. Our search for quality is a never-ending process involving the careful judgment of buyers throughout the company” [Whole Foods Market], shows its ambition and standard for the whole operation.
With its four founders, John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy, owners of Safer Way Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery, along with other 15 staff, Whole Foods Market opened its first store in Austin, Texas in 1980. The background of its founders shows they were all owners of local grocery stores providing natural food. With the same target on organic food in their mind, they worked together and achieved an immediate success as a result of great market opportunities at that time.
As the business developed, products are in high demand, and supply chain of Whole Foods Market became the key part of the operation. With the thoughts, local is fresh, Whole Foods Market has maintained great relationship with the local farms, in order to feature local products in the stores, Whole Foods Market provides up to $10 million in low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. By lending money to the local suppliers, Whole Foods Market could get the best products from the local farms with steady supply chain, and also help the local farmers to get stable income cooperating with their business. In addition, the Whole Planet Foundation always seeks for farms with great potential around the world, and helps them with investment and contracts with the farms. Also, big suppliers who cooperate with Whole Foods Market would also work with it to donate parts of the profit to the Foundation. As they all have the same idea of helping people, Whole Foods Market not only creates partnerships with its suppliers but also friendships. Friendship will better guarantee the quality and quantity of the supply to Whole Foods Market.
Whole Foods Market is not emotional when choosing its supplier; strict standards are set to screen the candidates. Different standards are written to satisfy different types of food, from seafood, meat to body care products, each has the corresponding rules from growing to packaging. With the comprehensive supervision of their products, Whole Foods Market tries to provide the finest organic and natural food to its customers.
Part 2: Organic Food and Its Relationship with People
Organic food is defined as those produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents (Oxford Dictionaries). When consumers shop in the supermarkets, they always rely on the organic labels on the products. However, what do these labels really mean? And what makes those products have the rights to put the labels on their packages?
- In the United States, the Department of Agriculture label has numerous levels — headed by the 100 percent designation USDA Organic seal.
- The U.S. government also allows the word “organic” on products that contain 95 percent organic ingredients. But they could contain monosodium glutamate, a flavor-enhancing natural ingredient, or carrageenan, a seaweed substance that thickens food.
- Both ingredients are an anathema to organic-favoring foodies, who believe that they pose health dangers even though government scientists have cleared them as perfectly harmless.
- A third category designates products with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients. They can be labeled “made with organic ingredients.” But such a label carries no guarantees about what else might be in the product.
After understanding the meaning of the labels, the following question might be: how can organic food help our health?
As the main standard of organic food stated, there must not be chemicals fertilizers used during the production. This is the reason that many people choose organic food. It possibly avoids any risks associated with the pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in conventional farming. Also parents may be concerned that exposure to these chemicals might harm the development of their children, and therefore they choose organic. Studies appear to support the fact that organic diets lower children’s exposure to pesticides.
“As for organic food being healthy, some studies, including one at UC Davis have demonstrated higher amounts of nutrients in some varieties of organic foods. Another study from Newcastle University in England showed organic milk contained 67 percent more vitamins and antioxidants, as well as more Omega-3s and Omega-6s (“healthy” fat) than conventional milk.” quoted from an article named “It’s Easy Being Green: Organic vs. Conventional Foods—The Gloves Come Off” of Center of American Progress.
Part 3: Whole Foods and Its Relationship with People
Talking about Whole Foods Market’s relationship with people, the first thing coming up is the Whole Kids Foundation. Here is the mission statement of this Foundation:
Whole Kids Foundation’s mission is to support schools and inspire families to improve children’s nutrition and wellness. Our ultimate goal is an end to the childhood obesity epidemic. Through partnerships with innovative organizations, schools and educators we work to provide children access to fresh, nutritious meals. We use our voice to help children and families make healthy food choices for life [Whole Foods Market].
Children are the society’s future; it is so important that we need to provide the children the best as much as possible. The Whole Kids Foundation shows its concern for the kids’ health, and willingness to help to improve the kid’s health by cooperating with other social organizations. In this program, the staff not only provide fresh and organic food for kids, they also get the kids together to learn about how the process of growing food helps children develop a deep understanding of the connection between healthy eating and a healthy body. In addition, staff of Whole Kids Foundation offers nutrition and cooking education to the teachers in order to let them provide the best knowledge about healthy diet to their students.
As a result of the supporting of the public, Whole Foods Market has expanded its business dramatically in recent years. After swallowing up some local small grocery stores, in February 2007, Whole Foods Market merged its biggest competitor, Wild Oats. This action brought the interests from FTC (Federal Trade Commission). FTC’s complaint was mainly about the distinct market that Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats competed in. FTC defined their market as a “separate market from conventional supermarkets because they ‘offer a distinct set of products and services to a distinct group of customers in a distinctive way’”. And FTC also claimed that Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats are the only national chains providing these products without competing with conventional supermarkets such as Safeway and Kroger. As a result, FTC brought the concern about the monopoly that Whole Foods Market might bring to the society. This concern was discussed sharply during that period. However, after FTC collected and analyzed the data, there was not a clear conclusion that this merging would create a monopoly to the market. The reason for no clear conclusion might be that a number of conventional grocery chains are transforming their stores to provide a more Whole Food-like experience (Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2007). Also, the higher price compared with conventional stores like Wal-Mart will also balance the market share of Whole Foods Market. Thus, customers and economy model will not be hurt by the merge, as a result of the new competition coming up.
According to the Utilitarian Ethics’ definition, maximizing happiness and reducing suffering, Whole Foods Markets overall has done a great job on maximizing happiness by providing an enthusiastic environment shopping in the stores, and fresh products to satisfy customers’ tastes. With reducing suffering’s aspect, Whole Foods Market’s two foundations help poor people with their businesses related with organic farming, and help kids on their healthy diet and nutrition education. In a sustainable aspect, the products without chemical fertilizers will leave the soil and other natural resources around the farms in rich status instead of destroying them with the artificial. All in all, Whole Foods Market’s effort in building an ethical business is successful and should be carried forward.
Whole Foods Market. “Company Info”, 2013. Web. <http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company-info/whole-foods-market-history>.
NCPA. “What Is an ‘Organic’ Label Really Worth?”, 2013. Web. July 24, 2013 < http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=23416 >.
Lambert, Thomas. “Four Lessons from Whole Foods Case.” AntiTurst. 2008. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
“It’s Easy Being Green: Organic vs. Conventional Foods—The Gloves Come Off”, Center of American Progress. 2008. Web. 13 Nov, 2013.
Kesmodel, David, and John R. Wilke. “FTC to Move Against Whole Foods” Wall Street Jounal.6 June, 2007. Web. 13 Nov, 2013.