Blog: Petah MarianIs Whole Foods a "faux hippie Wal-Mart"?

Petah Marian | 28 July 2011

An epic resignation letter written by a disgruntled Whole Foods employee from Toronto has gone viral, arguing that the US retailer's business practices are at odds with its hippie, do-gooder reputation.

The former staff member went through and highlighted how the chain hasn't been living up to its "core values", particularly around its failure to live up to its standards around recycling, sustainability and ethics.

Here's a little bit of what the former employee said in the 2,000 word resignation letter:

"Quality is being thrown out in favour of the people at the top having to do a little less work. Competition is being destroyed and you're not even pushing that many healthy products. Every second endcap is potato chips or pop or some sort of salt filled snack (Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education). A lot of the stuff in Whole Body doesn't even work or has absolutely no credible evidence to back any claims up. You're kind a faux hippie Wal-Mart now. Great. Job."

Since the letter was published on Sunday, Gawker, which originally published the letter (and you can read in full here), asked other Whole Foods staff to email it about their experiences working for the retailer.

While there were a few people supporting Whole Foods' philosophies, the number of people who have come out to criticise the retailer and the strength of their vitriol was surprising. There was so much of it that Gawker broke it down into two posts.

One response said the original letter did not go far enough - and that supervisors refuse to let subordinates go to the bathroom, sometimes for as long as 30-40 minutes.

Another said that food in the prepared foods section was made using expired cheese and the edible but expired meat that had been taken off the shelves.

"I am a former chef, so the whole Prepared Foods department is rather scary. Employee rule is NEVER eat off that hot bar unless you microwave the hell out of it to kill any bacteria. A plate at the hot bar pretty much means the trots later," claimed one former staff member.

Retailers like Whole Foods, which pin their businesses on their philosophies, must find situations like this one particularly worrying, to say the least. Particularly considering this one letter has opened the flood gates for former staff to not only back up the original claims, but turn it into a free-for-all, putting all of its activities under scrutiny.

Much like Disney World, which is all sunshine and fairy dust to consumers, but could be any industrial park in America once you go behind the scenes, perhaps it may only be a case of employees being disappointed by the chasm between a company's consumer perception and the needs of a corporation.

For Whole Foods' sake, I hope this is the case, and that it will move quickly to reassure consumers, because, while I hate to stereotype, the American who puts Whole Foods fruit and vegetable wash or Himalania Cacao Dusted Dark Chocolate Covered Goji Berries into their basket is anecdotally more likely to be the type to boycott it on principle.

Although, with Whole Foods increasing its full-year earnings target today, perhaps this might not be the case?

Whole Foods has not yet responded to calls for comment - but if/when they do, I'll update here.


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