Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whole Paycheck

I vacillate on my feelings about Whole Foods--is it just another corporate entity out to make money or are they more invested in the well-being of society? My general question, at least. And my general answer is usually: Both. Devil in Birkenstocks Syndrome.

An article in the NYT looks at a different aspect, however: Is Whole Foods affordable and what are they doing to market their products as such? It's sort of an interesting peek at the economic side of things, most notably trends towards organics and how our recent recession (yeah, I'll call it that) has affected choices in regards to groceries:
"Making matters worse for Whole Foods, consumer interest in organic food appears to be leveling off after several years of double-digit growth, according to the Hartman Group, a market research firm specializing in health and wellness.

Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, said core consumers for organic goods, about 15 percent of the population, are becoming even more committed. But people less attached to such items are continuing to buy organic dairy products, produce and meat, and are buying fewer organic goods among packaged items, like cereal and crackers, she said.

“They don’t see those center-store categories as being so important,” she said. “The economy has only exacerbated that situation.”"

Anyway, here it is.

One wonders how much money affects nutrition in a first world country. Fruits and vegetables are not terribly expensive--they're certainly cheaper than a lot of foods that are bad for you, but what of organics? Where do people shift their emphasis when times are tough? As the article notes, many people focus on buying meat and dairy products that are organic first and things like cereal second. But, does Whole Foods in and of itself become a place essentially off-limits to shop for the average, less affluent consumer? I wonder how many people are just intimidated to walk into the store where they sell quail eggs ($40/each, I saw them with my own eyes yesterday) and crimini mushrooms and aged gouda at exorbitant prices, albeit they have grains in bulk, the 365 brand that is actually pretty cheap and tofu for a buck. What influences people's knowledge about these places? Why do people shop where they shop? In Manhattan, Whole Foods offers some of the only 'real' grocery stores by American standards. Otherwise, it's small markets, bodegas and discount emporium type places.

Does Whole Foods accept food stamps? More importantly, how comfortable would someone feel using them there?

Whole Foods, and the entire genre of organics/healthy eating/green-ness, etc. seem to need--and they are getting this--to shift their marketing and ad campaigns over from an image of elitism and superiority to that of wholesomeness and affordable nutritional choices, but at the same time being interesting and hip (see my previous article on greenwashing). Bring it down to the masses, yo, and your stock will go up. It's the new economics. Paradigm shift. Just ask Richard Branson.

1 comment:

mikal said...

I think the trouble with Whole Foods has to do with its disinterest in buying local. This is not really a new argument, but its an important one. When does the benefit of (supposedly) organic food become outweighed by the amount of gasoline (and the intrinsic pollution involved)necessary to get the best deals on healthy groceries?