You asked questions regarding Whole Foods Markets' sustainability values and business, and Dave Rosenberg, Director of Marketing for Whole Foods Market, Inc. answered:
Question for Dave Rosenberg: "Imaging the Walton family has a collective epiphany that results in Wal*Mart making a strategic decision to open in-store boutiques offering natural and organic foods at everyday low prices in all their stores. How would this impact: a) Whole Foods Market's brand and b) your pricing policy
Answer: When Whole Foods Market first opened its doors in 1980, we set out on a simple mission: to provide a more natural alternative to the conventional grocery options available at that time. That mission still rings true today.
If a competitor of this size were to make such a decision, we would consider it a compliment and a nod to our pioneering leadership for organic and natural foods in America.
In response to part A of your question, our brand is shaped by the core values that have been central to our success for more than 25 years. That said, we believe that competition is good for any company. In our case, it provides another reason to strive for excellence while increasing awareness of organic and natural foods.
Regarding pricing, as the industry's leader in the organic and natural foods, we offer the best prices for organic and natural food. We have found that our prices are equal to or better than conventional supermarkets for products of similar quality.
When it comes to "everyday low prices," we carry our own line of private label products such as 365 Every Day ValueÂ™ and 365 Organic Everyday ValueÂ™ which provide customers with high quality products at everyday low prices 365 days a year.
Question for Dave Rosenberg: "What specifically sparked Whole Foods to decide to make the switch to buying all of its energy from wind power? What has been the effect on Whole Foods' energy costs as a result of the switch? If it is as cost-efficient as more traditional sources of energy, what is holding back other large retailers from making a similar switch? Thanks for taking our questions!
John M. Francis
Answer: Central to Whole Foods Market's core values is caring about our communities and respecting our environment, and this includes adopting wise environmental practices. Purchasing wind energy credits to offset 100% of Whole Foods Market's electricity is a natural extension of our Whole Planet mission. This shows that we 'walk our talk' with dedication to our green mission to be a leader in environmental stewardship. In terms of energy costs â€“ we are using the same amount of energy â€“ now it's just being replaced back onto the national power grid as clean, renewable energy from wind farms.
Wind energy is more affordable than ever before. The price of wind power has fallen 90% in the past twenty years, making it very cost-competitive.Â Being a fuel-free resource, wind power also enjoys long-term price stability. Advances in technology, public support and increasing consumer demand have made wind power the fastest growing source of energy in the world.Â In 2005 a record amount of wind power was brought online in the U.S.Â
As far as what is holding back other retailers â€“ we can't speak for them.
One more question from John M. Francis: As someone who frequents Whole Foods Markets, I do notice a significant difference in my grocery bills when I compare them to other large food retailers. Whole Foods is clearly more expensive. However, I am willing to pay extra in order to buy organic foods. I've read (here on Gather in fact) that organic foods do not necessarily require a lot more input of dollars to produce than do conventional foods. Is that true? If so, what explains the price discrepancy?
Answer: Prices for organic foods do reflect many of the same costs as conventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage.
However, organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps and to preserve the integrity of the organic distinction. The process is often more labor- and time-intensive, and organic farming tends to be on a smaller scale. For these reasons, organic food may cost a little more at the checkout counter.
Interestingly, there is mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food productionâ€”cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workersâ€”were factored into the price of food, organic foods would cost the same or, more likely, be cheaper.
When comparing your grocery bill at Whole Foods Market, be sure that you are comparing apples to apples (pardon the expression), you will find our prices are equal to or better than conventional supermarkets for products of similar quality.
Question for Dave Rosenberg: Why does Whole Foods produce cost so much more (75% more) than my local mom & pop market? Does Whole Foods have any intention of helping to make organic more affordable? Healthier foods can consume 35 to 40 percent of a low-income family's grocery budget. Does Whole Foods accept food stamps?
Answer: We believe that everyone is entitled to enjoy the benefits and great taste of organic foods. As demand grows for organic foods and products and availability increases, prices are becoming more and more competitive.
And yes, our stores do accept food stamps.Â
Question for Dave Rosenberg: Mr. Rosenberg, I appreciate you providing an opportunity to interact with you on sustainability issues. I live in Eugene, OR, where our city council recently voted to spend several million dollars in connection with downtown development of a Whole Foods Market store. As you probably know, Eugene is home to several fine local natural/organic food stores that have a long history of sustained existence. Supporters of these local stores are concerned about the city providing a subsidy to encourage shoppers to drive into town to shop at a store that will take resources out of our community. Some of the project's controversy comes from worries that the Whole Foods Market, an international corporation, will have an unfair advantage over local stores. Rick Wright, whose family owns the local 'Market of Choice' stores, said the winners of the project would be Whole Foods Market and the landlords, while the losers would be the local growers and grocery stores. Dwight Collins of Eugene's Newman's Fish Company said he united with other grocery stores in downtown Eugene to oppose the City Council's plan to build the Whole Foods Market. The proposed multi-story parking garage, which would be built next to Whole Foods Market and would provide between 192 and 266 parking spaces, raised much concern from Eugene residents. Opponents of the parking garage said the parking garage would be an ugly entrance into downtown. "If Whole Foods wants to come to town, let them come," General Contractor Steve Stearns said. "If they want to come to town, that's their business. If we're going to buy them a parking garage, that's our business." Architecture professor Mark Gillem and several University students from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts' urban design studio presented their alternative plan to the parking garage. They proposed constructing park blocks from Saturday Market on Eighth Avenue to the Willamette River, with parking being constructed underground next to the Whole Foods Market. "To be a city of the arts and outdoors, we need parks in the perimeter as well as parks around the city," Gillem said. "In the end, park blocks to the river would do more than parking garages to create a livable and safe downtown." I think that sustainability is a rubber meets the road issue which can be measured by objective metrics- either a thing is sustainable unto itself, or it is not. It is difficult to see how a subsidy (by definition, outside support) is 'sustainable', but I am open to listening to an alternative point of view. So, in light of these local concerns, can you explain how a public subsidy in support of your business, paid in large part by taxes from local merchants, to facilitate automobile traffic is contributing to sustainability in my community? Would Whole Foods be willing to make it's own investment in the parking garage, if as the Portland developer says, it's so vital to the project? What does Whole Foods do to reduce the use of fossil fuel consuming personal vehicles by shoppers to it's stores? From the point of view of sustainability of the quality of life investments Eugene residents have made over the years, why should they provide public monies to the sustainable business Whole Foods claims to be? Thank you for your time in providing me a response to my inquiry.
Answer: Whole Foods Market attempts to cater to each community. To accommodate community interests we are structured regionally. Each region creates its own relationships with local vendors and suppliers, structures its own distribution system, builds its own stores that cater to each individual community, and hires Team Members locally.
I happen to work for the company's Midwest Region and therefore I'm not familiar with the specifics regarding the construction of a new store in Eugene, Oregon. I would encourage you to voice your concerns with a member of our Pacific Northwest regional office. Contact information for all of our regional offices is available at: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/regional.html
I can tell you that in the Midwest region, we do encourage customers to make environmentally friendly decisions in their lives. We do take in mind the accessibility of public transportation to our stores when choosing a site. In fact, we are trying to build new stores in line with the LEED certification system created by the United States Green Building Council. One means of achieving certification points is to build in areas accessible by public transportation.
The use of personal vehicles to access our stores is more a result of the community's public transportation system, its size and overall traffic patterns. Here in Chicago, many of our customers walk to do their shopping. When the weather permits, they may ride their bike. And public transportation in our city is well structured and prevalent. In other communities, there may or may not be sidewalks in the area and zoning laws require us to locate stores in commercial districts that may not be as pedestrian friendly. We always provide bike racks to encourage customers to pedal to our stores.
For reference: the Whole Foods Markets Inc. statementÂ Sustainability and Our Future.
American Public Media Interactive Producer