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Is Whole Foods a "faux hippie Wal-Mart"?
28 Jul 2011 14:36
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.
Ocado's bringing the best of France to the UK
22 Jul 2011 15:35
Ocado launches the Reflets de France range with a giant Eiffel Tower made out of cheese
Ocado seems determined to bring the best of France to the UK with its launch of Carrefour's Reflets de France range.
And how better to celebrate this partnership but with a sculpture of the Eiffel Tower made out of a combination of English Cheddar and Reflets de France Tomme de Savorie.
The PR stunt follows the the announcement of an agreement to sell Carrefour's products through online grocer Ocado in the UK. The range will comprise over 300 SKUs and include products like wines, olives, cheeses and other "authentic" French products.
Morrisons' great expectations for new private-label offer
20 Jul 2011 15:10
UK grocer Morrisons seems to have high expectations for its soon-to-be relaunched private-label offer.
Speaking at Morrisons Christmas press day yesterday (19 July), head chef Neil Nugent hinted at the scale of the changes, which are set to begin to be rolled out in October.
"I'm gearing up for a race but I'm not sure if its a sprint or a marathon," he told just-food, suggesting that it is more likely to be the latter.
Nugent said that it will take time to roll out the new-look range, which has some 8,000 SKUs, and that, as part of those plans, he's employed five more chefs, while Morrisons is building a "centre of excellence" to develop new products at its Bradford HQ.
Speaking about the drive behind the pace of change at the UK's fourth-largest grocer, he described chief executive Dalton Philips as "an ambitious man" and that the staff at the retailer are striving to achieve the plan he laid out last November.
With the first M-Local store opening last week to a positive reception among industry watchers, just-food towers is keen to see what Philips has planned for his own-label range.
Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury's bid each other adieu
12 Jul 2011 15:56
It's a sad, sad day today (12 July) with Sainsbury's and Jamie Oliver announcing plans to end their relationship.
After over 11 years and more than 100 television ads, a spokesperson for Sainsbury's told just-food the decision was a "natural end to a strong partnership" and the decision was "completely amicable".
In a joint statement, Oliver and Sainsbury's said that the "decision has been made as both parties feel that it's the right time to move on", especially as Oliver seeks to spend more time on his social projects through the Jamie Oliver Foundation both in the UK and abroad.
While Oliver has clearly been an asset to Sainsbury's, on reflection, the move is an unsurprising one. Oliver's ever increasing ubiquity - he's eclipsed his role as a chef and food campaigner to a mega-brand himself - shilling products ranging from homewares (sold in other supermarkets), through to his own restaurants and his two food-to-go/ cooking schools, which might have led to Oliver's lustre fading among Sainsbury's camp.
The Christmas campaign will be Oliver's last for the retailer and the spokesperson said a replacement will be announced in due course.
Will Morrisons look to swallow Iceland whole or look for scraps?
11 Jul 2011 15:15
There has been speculation that Morrisons, which has been tipped to be a major contender to acquire the Iceland Foods chain. However, reports have emerged over the weekend that the retailer might only consider taking on indivdual stores.
Morrisons CFO Richard Pennycook reportedly said last week that the UK retailer had benefited from acquiring stores sold following the acquisitions of Netto by Asda and Somerfield by The Co-operative Group.
However, the report in The Financial Times inferred that the success of these stores could mean that Morrisons, seen as a potential buyer for frozen-food retailer Iceland Foods, could instead only look take on some stores. And that conclusion could be misguided.
For Morrisons to even have scraps to access, it would require either Asda to buy the chain, and then triggering a Netto style sell-off for stores with overlapping catchment areas - and with Netto and Iceland's similar demographic pool, there would likely to be many.
Alternatively, a private-equity firm could snap up the chain and its constituent parts - although this would be unlikely as the location of many of the stores would be unlikely to fetch a premium and would also mean the loss of any equity that lingers in the Iceland brand.
And this is also before considering the desire of current chief executive Malcolm Walker to keep the chain in his hands. He founded the company and also has the option to match any offer - giving him a fairly strong position to take back control of the company - assuming he can finance the bid.
While Morrisons' senior management has emphasised over the past year its ambitions for growth, perhaps unless it looks at a full bid, it may struggle to feast on the winner's scraps.
Is removing ads from the News of The World enough?
07 Jul 2011 15:33
Retailers have begun to bend on consumer pressure to stop advertising in the tabloid News of the World following allegations of widespread phone hacking. But is removing ads from the publication enough?
There are now calls from consumers on social media channels for retailers to stop selling NotW entirely.
In a series of shocking allegations, a private investigator working for The News of the World allegedly hacked into the mobile phone of missing 13-year old Milly Dowler.
It has also been alleged that a private investigator deleted messages from Dowler's voicemail, giving her parents false hope that she might still be alive.
Since these allegations, it has emerged that the paper might have hacked mobile phones of UK soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the families of victims in the 7/7 bombings and other people involved in high profile events.
Following The Co-operative Group's decision yesterday, Sainsbury's said today that it had suspended its advertising in the News of the World until the outcome of the investigation.
"Due to the rising concerns of our customers we are suspending any advertising in the News of the World until the outcome of the investigation," said a Sainsbury's spokesperson.
Asda said that it had no plans to advertise in the News of the World, and that contrary to some reports, it's a not a big spender with that paper or any other Sunday paper. "In this calendar year we have spent around GBP34,000 on ads in the News of The World," Asda said in a statement.
Tesco has continued to face criticism over its decision to wait until investigations into the tabloid are concluded. Within two hours of posting a statement to this effect on its Facebook page, the retailer had received nearly 100 comments, after its post on the situation yesterday received some 238.
"The focus must be on the police investigation and on the public inquiries being considered urgently by the government. We must all support them and allow them to do their work so that all necessary and appropriate action is taken in the light of their findings, all lessons are learned for the future and public confidence is restored," said Tesco on its Facebook page.
As retailers ride the wave of public sentiment and begin to suspend advertising with the tabloid, there have been further calls today for them to stop stocking the paper entirely.
With reports that revenue from paper sales is three times more than ad sales, there have been calls from some corners for retailers to delist the paper.
Indeed, one Budgens operator has said that it plans to stop stocking the News of The World. The owner of two stores in North London said in a blog post today that the paper's actions actions have affected people in our community and "there must be consequences for the complete lack of morality that seems to be part of the paper's culture".
I became involved in a bit of a debate on Twitter today with a number of industry watchers over whether the retailers should stop stocking News of The World.
Delisting the newspaper would be a mistake. It's important to give consumers the opportunity to let the company know how they feel about its practices by not purchasing.
Also, delisting gives the NotW a headstart on calculating its losses. If orders remain static, the paper prints the same number of copies, and if the outrage on Twitter and Facebook is truly representative of the opinions of the Great British Public, nobody will buy it and News International will be even harder hit by return fees.
Steve Dresser, who runs the UK-retailers blog suggested that retailers won't cut the paper for competitive reasons."What they will worry about is losing customers to somewhere that does stock it," he said.
Meanwhile, Cliona Lynch said that if "unethical practices are proven, how can they stand over stocking it?" and that "where the retailer holds as much power as in this case, they should act responsibly and in-line with consumer sentiment".
With more revelations expected in the coming days, consumer pressure is unlikely to die down.
UPDATE: Brand Republic has just announced that the News of the World will not run any ads in this Sunday's issue.
UPDATE 2: It has now emerged that Sunday's issue will be the last issue of the News of The World.
Industry responds to News of the World boycott pressure
06 Jul 2011 15:19
Supermarkets and food manufacturers are responding to pressure to pull advertising from UK tabloid News of the World after it was alleged that an investigator working for the newspaper hacked into the mobile phone of missing 13-year old Milly Dowler.
It has also been alleged that a private investigator deleted messages from Dowler's voicemail, giving her parents false hope that she might still be alive.
An online campaign, largely run across social media sites Twitter and Facebook, has encouraged consumers to contact the NotW's advertisers and demand they drop the adverts.
Following pressure from consumers, The Co-operative Group announced today that it would temporarily suspend any further advertising with the tabloid until the outcome of the investigation is known.
"The group is a consumer-owned business which adheres to strong ethical standards. These allegations have been met with revulsion by the vast majority of members who have contacted us," said The Co-op.
While the Co-op has been congratulated for acting quickly, Tesco has faced criticism on its Facebook page after the company said that it would wait until the outcome of police investigations before making a decision on its advertising.
"These latest allegations will cause huge distress to a family which has suffered enough. It's now a matter for the police; like everyone, we await the outcome of their investigation," the retailer said.
In response, one consumer said: "Would it be too much to ask Tesco to withdraw their advertising from the News of the World for one week - this coming Sunday - to show the company's disapproval?
"Unwittingly, the money Tesco spends with the NotW has helped part-fund payments for this phone hacking. (I stress unwittingly). I'm guessing that the company does not approve of the hacking of a 13 year-old girl's voicemail. How about it showing that disapproval this Sunday?"
Sainsbury's and Morrisons are also set to wait until the results of the investigation become known.
A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: "We advertise in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio stations. The views and practices of any organisations that carry our advertising do not represent those of Sainsbury's. That said, it would be prudent to await the outcome of the investigation."
While Morrisons confirmed that does not have any ads running in this week's edition of the paper, a company spokesperson told just-food that it "clearly understands that the allegations are very serious" and that it is "watching the situation". He said that Morrisons wouldn't make any long-term decisions about its advertising with the paper until the "full facts are known".
Ocado + Carrefour - the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
28 Jun 2011 12:37
The announcement of a tie-up between UK online grocer Ocado and French retail giant Carrefour is one that has been the subject of speculation for almost two years, although, perhaps, the form that the relationship has taken has been somewhat more surprising.
Ocado yesterday (27 June) announced that it would begin trialling Carrefour's 'Reflets de France' range of authentic French produce to all of its customers.
The announcement follows speculation since late 2009 that the two companies were in talks to launch a joint online grocery retail venture in Paris, with Ocado set to provide provide the software to facilitate the delivery of Carrefour products in France.
Yesterday's announcement may also reignite speculation around that partnership, although it seems now, a year and a half down the line, that Carrefour's French online offer is quite advanced, making a deal across the Channel seem unlikely.
However, Carrefour is present in some 34 countries, and if it has found online a challenge in France, this deal may just provide Ocado with the leverage to take Carrefour's offer online in other countries.
The deal is also likely to have other tangential benefits for Ocado, potentially improving the perception among industry watchers of it being too heavily reliant on Waitrose for its private-label offer, even if the move doesn't particularly provide a massive point of differentiation for consumers.
The range will include over 300 SKUs and include products like wines, olives cheeses and other "authentic" French products.
Nonetheless, the announcement also comes at a key time for Ocado. Waitrose, Ocado's long-time partner, is gearing up to compete with the online firm in its key market, the London area, at the end of a non-compete agreement.
Is this deal only the first of further potential deals between Ocado and Carrefour?
Tesco's South Korean subway shopping scheme impresses
24 Jun 2011 13:42
Often when I take to this blog it's to poke fun or be critical of things, but this time around I've found something to get particularly excited about.
This impressive video of Tesco's Homeplus subway shopping scheme in South Korea has been making its way around the internet over the past 24 hours.
Tesco launched the scheme, which allows customers to shop using QR codes and billboards on a subway platform, as a means of competing with the country's number one retailer, E-Mart, without adding any more stores.
Customers scan QR codes under the images of the products they want, and when the online purchase is done, the goods are delivered to their door once they get home.
According to the agency that produced the campaign (or is it store concept?), Cheil Worldwide, the campaign increased Tesco's online sales by 130% and made Homeplut become the number one online grocer in the country, and a "very close" second offline.
Tesco pushes ahead with San Francisco opening
23 Jun 2011 14:51
Tesco's Fresh & Easy US division opened its first store in San Francisco and announced a recruitment drive for its second store in the city yesterday (22 June) .
"Today as we celebrate the opening of Fresh & Easy's first grocery store in San Francisco, we are demonstrating once again the city's commitment to providing our residents access to fresh, wholesome food at affordable prices regardless of where they live," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "This new store along with the Bayview store scheduled to open in August will provide local jobs to our residents and it will have lasting local economic impacts in these communities and the city as a whole."
As the retailer pushes ahead with developing its estate in the US, industry watchers remain concerned about the the future of the operations.
For Tesco to achieve a profit, it needs to achieve scale. And as MF Global analyst Mike Dennis described back in May, opening up in Northern California is "like opening up a store in Scotland, when you've got a store in Havant in the south of England".
However, McMillanDoolittle retail consultant Neil Stern suggests that the move may give the retailer the opportunity to get the model right, which "might give it a better case to make to management to keep it going".