If you were watching game one of the World Series and paying attention, you had to be shocked. Shocked, not because “Big Game” James Shields was rocked but because you saw a commercial in some ways as monumental as the famous 1984 Macintosh Super Bowl advert. Whole Foods Market has gone big time.
For the first time ever, the leading grocery store chain specializing in organic, real, local-ish, and “natural” food has dipped its toe into the waters of national marketing. A full-blown, full-length Whole Foods commercial ran on prime time network television, marking a departure from the company’s longtime (non-)marketing strategy. This is huge.
Though operating over 385 stores worldwide, with most of those in the US, Whole Foods has never mounted a full-fledged national advertising campaign. Rolling out full page ads in major papers and pricey commercials on network primetime is significant. How has it come to this?
Arguably, no other single corporation has done more to influence the eating habits of Americans for the better and provide healthier options than has Whole Foods Market. Founded in Austin, Texas in 1980, Whole Foods wasn’t the originator of the health food / natural food trend but rapidly became a leader in the field, riding a slowly developing wave of interest that can trace its modern beginnings back to the efforts of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Kellogg, (yes, as in corn flakes,) was a health food nut and aligned nutrition with health in a way never before presented in modern times. To be clear, health and nutrition have been linked by wise medical systems for all of history. Kellogg corporatized it. Whole Foods marketed it.
Wacky John Mackey Whole Foods is not without its detractors and foibles. Few successful companies are. The Whole Foods critiques range from their derogatory nickname of “Whole Paycheck” to the head-scratching actions of its founder and CEO, John Mackey, who lurked on stock-watching message boards under an anonymous name. In 2006, Whole Foods manipulated a hostile takeover and vaporized its only competition in the industry, the Wild Oats chain, utilizing friendlies on the Wild Oats’ board of directors. The takeover was disallowed by the Federal Trade Commission and Whole Foods had to sell stores that it acquired. The Securities Exchange Commission, meanwhile, investigated Mackey’s questionable online activities. Mackey continued to be a lightning rod for criticism. Disgruntled former employees lament the “drink the Kool-Aid” atmosphere and claim other company transgressions. Yet Whole Foods continually ranks near the top of Forbes’ “100 Best Companies to Work For List.” Again, leaders in a field are often easy targets. Taken on its canon of work, Whole Foods stands out as a champion of real food ideals.
Why now? So why is Whole Foods all of a sudden doing national advertising? Well, like most things, it can be viewed two different ways. One detractor wrote a piece in Fast Company that the Whole Foods advertising venture is in direct response to its flagging stock value. The writer claims Whole Foods is losing sight of its values because it’s valuing stock prices rather than food authenticity. How sour are the writer’s grapes? Well, the writer, one Joe Dobrow, was the one-time “national head-of-marketing” for Whole Foods and whines that he was stymied by John Mackey’s low opinion of broad marketing. Talk about schadenfreude. Indeed, WFMI stock has dipped in 2014. Many cite competition from a growing number of natural food providers and chains. But the fact is, WF reported record sales in the first quarter. But profit margins were sluggish and that likely drove the Wall Street wonks to devalue the stock.
The good news. I have a different more optimistic take on why Whole Foods’ national outing is good. It signifies that healthy eating, non-GMO awareness, organic foods, natural choices, non-polluting, fair trade, humanely raised, socially aware food shopping is no longer a niche market. These tenets are mainstream and Whole Foods helped make it so. We’ve seen the idea of eating real food expand exponentially in the past decade or so and Whole Foods Market has been a beacon on that journey for America. If its past efforts to educate and provide had not been successful there would be no sense in spending the bucks to advertise to a broad audience. There would be no broad audience. What Whole Foods offers is not “fringe” but now mainstream and they are responsible for a great deal of that sea change.
On other notes: We have neither an Ebola epidemic nor a fear epidemic in the US. We have a “stupidity epidemic.” How much intelligence does it take for an infected person“feeling sluggish” on Tuesday to keep from riding the subway, going bowling and taking public transportation on Wednesday? Methinks that “Doctors Without Borders” needs some.
And: Meditators! There is a Transcendental Meditation intensive at Mahoney State Park on November 2. Visit HeartlandHealing.com/TM or call 402-637-TMTM. Do it now.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for more information.