Bellingham, Just Say No to Whole Foods

whole-foodsI was very saddened to see news in the Bellingham Herald this morning that a Whole Foods Market will be opening here in the summer of 2016.

I’ve written numerous times, most recently this past December, that one of the things that is so special about Bellingham is that local businesses are thriving here. It’s an integral part of our identity as a small city. And, local businesses are thriving mostly because we take pride in that identity and commit to support our local businesses, even at times when prices are cheaper elsewhere, because we know that the owners of these businesses are our neighbors and friends.

Another component of Bellingham’s identity is our commitment to sustainability, in terms of environmental protection and restoration, sustainable agriculture, sustainable building practices, etc.

So, you see this conflict between those two aspects of our identity when we consider the arrival of Whole Foods. While not a locally-owned business, it is a market that features natural and organic foods, including non-GMO products.

Problem is, we already have two outstanding local natural foods markets, the Bellingham Community Food Co-Op, with two locations, and Terra Organic & Natural Foods, both conduct themselves more like communities than businesses, and both contribute to a wide variety of community events and non-profit organizations.

I find the practices of these large chain stores disturbing, how they move into communities that have existing, local businesses offering similar goods and services, without any apparent concern for how they will take business away from those who were here first, wielding their corporate power against mom and pop shops, or, in the case of the Community Food Co-Op, member owners, businesses that don’t have the resources to compete fairly.

In the Herald article, a Whole Foods executive is quoted:

Bellingham is a terrific market. It’s been a long time coming…The right site was there, the right partner and developer was there, the right mix in terms of competition and suppliers. We just think the time is perfect…Our primary interest is in Whatcom County. It’s a very strong market in itself.

Now, I have no doubt that Whole Foods is confident that the market is strong enough for them to open here and succeed, but I’m just as confident that they do not consider the fact that their success could imperil the pre-existing locally-owned natural food markets.

Consider the Core Values section of their website, where you’ll find a menu of pages on a variety of topics, including one titled We Serve And Suport Our Local And Global Communities.

Sounds nice, but of course there’s no mention of their impact on similar local businesses. Why, that wouldn’t be flattering at all!

I wish I had more time to dig deeper on this topic. There are sources I’ve consulted on the impact of chain stores, which deserves elaboration, and there is the sticky fact that some local natural food producers might do better if they can sell their products at Whole Foods, and perhaps I’ll get to these topics in future posts.

For now, mine is a more personal expression of distaste for this news, rather than a thorough analysis.

I doubt we can stop Whole Foods from coming, they are already leasing the property they’ll be moving into.

But, we can make the choice to not shop there, and to continue to support the Co-Op and Terra.

22 thoughts on “Bellingham, Just Say No to Whole Foods

  1. P.S. Also, they are overpriced, which I didn’t mind so much when buying specialty items, until I found out that they are anti-union. I now get those items at PCC, which is also priced a little high, but I’m pretty sure their labor policies are kinder.

  2. I was not very excited to hear this news. I spent 4 years working at the Bellingham Food Co-op and am currently on my 3rd year working for Whole Foods. I unfortunately left the Co-op to do an extensive bicycle tour and could not get a job there when I was finished, so I found one at Whole Foods in Portland. The two stores are night and day different. The Co-Op actually cares about it’s employees, suppliers, and community. I can’t say the same for Whole Foods, they simply do not practice what they preach, at least in the Pacific Northwest region. The majority of their workers don’t make a living wage, there is no benefit to free food that is unsellable (expired, punctured, damaged, etc.) like there is at the Co-Op for employees, and the benefit package is an absolute joke when compared to other Forbes top companies to work for (the Co-Op’s was significantly better. Walmart has successfully been vetoed from certain cities in America, and I’m optimistic that Whole Foods will be vetoed from coming to Bellingham. If I was still living up there I’d be at the forefront trying to make that happen. I’d suggest getting volunteers to stand out in front of the Co-Op and Terra Organica to get signatures to start putting the wheels in motion to keep them out and keep the local businesses alive.

    • Thanks SO much for sharing your story! As I said in my post, the property has been leased to Whole Foods, and so they are coming. Hopefully there will be a vocal boycott, but unfortunately I’m not sure how much difference it will make. The comments at the Herald seem to show just as much support for Whole Foods as there was opposition. 😦

  3. I’ve had a totally different experience as a Whole Foods employee, and prior to the 12 years I have been with Whole Foods I owned my own retail business for 12 years.

    I get much better benefits than what I was able to offer my own employees, including what I purchased for myself as owner. During my time with Whole Foods I have received Lasik surgery ($6,000+ out of pocket, paid for by my insurance subsidy), replaced all my metal fillings from when I was a teenager (also about $6,000 paid for with subsidy from Whole Foods), and had a baby. All pre and post natal care for baby and mom covered by Whole Foods. I have literally not paid a dime of my own money for health services in twelve years except for a small monthly cost for vision and dental.

    I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to work for a company that does care for its employees. As a new father I had no trouble getting four weeks paternity, and there was a genuine offer for the full twelve available with no pressure to choose less. I have another on the way due in December and am receiving the same encouragement to take as much time as I need, despite December being the stores busiest month by far.

    When I had my own business, I was only able to hire slightly over minimum wage, and for raises $.50 was a generous wage. It pained me to offer so little but that was the reality of my retail business. I also had no management positions so even though I was able to hire motivated employees after a year or two there was really nowhere for them to go to, so often they left to pursue other jobs with career opportunities.

    Now I can honestly tell a potential hire they can go as far as they want if they are willing to put the work in. I’m a testament to that and I have seen it happen over and over. Dishwasher/counter help/cashier to department manager, store manager, and above.

    I’ve shopped the co-op many times in my frequent visits to Bellingham and they do a pretty nice job. Whole Foods will offer another option for residents and visitors. Choice is good and competition is better for customers. There are (I think) three Starbucks in Bellingham and still many independent coffee shops that thrive. I suspect there is room for Whole Foods, the co-op, and Terra.

    • Rich, I appreciate you for sharing your perspective as a long-time Whole Foods employee, though much of what you say directly contradicts testimonials I’ve read from other Whole Foods employees, such as darrenmodonnell who commented on this post back in February.

      As with many similar cultural conflicts, the rhetoric often becomes heavily polarized. I’m sure it’s accurate to say that Whole Foods is not entirely evil as some would claim, I did not make that claim myself, but based on everything I’ve read elsewhere, your glowing report of how you have been treated as an employee is highly unusual.

      I’m very happy for you, but the sad fact is that EVERY worker should be treated as you’ve been treated, and the truth is that the reality for millions of workers, especially those working for larger corporate chain retailers, in this country and around the world, is very, very different.

      It doesn’t mean that Whole Foods shouldn’t get credit for doing some things right, but when those things should be done any way, as a matter of course, for the sake of social justice, and when Whole Foods does, unquestionably, wield their corporate power and threaten locally-owned grocers in the communities they move into, they should NOT be able to hide behind the things they are doing better at.

      With respect.

  4. Out of curiosity, how many current Whole Foods Market team members have you spoken with? I will be the first to say it isn’t an employer for everyone, and certainly some leave disgruntled. It is beyond a doubt the best job I have ever had an I personally know hundreds of current team members who would echo that opinion.

    • Rich, I have not personally spoken to other Whole Foods employees, but I’ve read numerous reports of disgruntledness and anti-union practices. (Just one example.)

      But listen, the labor relations issues weren’t even the focus of my original post here, the focus of my original post is really what I care the most about, and you have not addressed that at all.

      So, I repeat, I’m glad that you love your job so much, I hope you are right that most Whole Foods employees are as happy as you are, and that the discussion, as I’ve said, has become polarized.

    • Well here’s one ex-employee, who bought into the so called ‘mission statement’ only to find WH markets is a meat grinder that cares nothing for it’s employees (not Team members) and personally witnessed the tawdry labor practices leading to the firing of around 13 people in my department. It became astonishing how badly the so called ‘team leaders’ treated, or better yet, mis-treated the people who they employed — I could go one by one and detail sickening dealings that made me leave after 3 years, 2 stores and two cities. I will never spend another dime in a whole foods.

  5. (1) I welcome WholeFoods. I miss the diversity of choice which is lacking @ the local health food stores. (2) There also are numerous disgruntled workers at the local markets with various complaints. (3) Full-time not readily available at local market… there’s a High ratio of Overworked Part-Time workers at local markets. (4) as a customer the prices are high and choices few at local market. I Welcome WholeFoods and diversity for me as a consumer.

    • Sarah, thanks for reading my post and sharing your contrary perspective. (1) I’ve been in several Whole Foods markets and they do indeed offer an impressive array of choices, but I’d have to see the data that proves that they offer more choices. I’m actually very impressed with the number of choices available at both the Co-op and Terra. (2,3) I suspect that there are disgruntled workers in nearly every workplace, but again, I’d prefer to see some evidence that the level of disgruntlement at our two local natural food markets comes anywhere near the well-documented levels reported at Whole Foods, centering around low wages, hiring more part time workers in order to dodge providing benefits, and union-busting activities. (I’d link to proof of this, but don’t have the time at the moment and a quick Google search will yield plenty if you care to read up on it.) (4) Whole Foods, just this past summer, was caught mislabeling and overcharging for items in New York, and from my own experience at Whole Foods on occasions I’ve been out of town and they were the only healthy option, the prices did not at all seem cheaper than our local markets. Again, I’d want to see data to support that claim. With respect.

    • Mr. Galt, I and the very many members of the Co-op prefer to pay somewhat higher prices than we would at other grocery stores, because by doing so we support a locally owned and member owned business that is more concerned about community and sustainability than it is about profits.

  6. The coop just paved over trees to build a new parking lot they re providing less and less of the
    Core values which made them
    heroes now Haggen, trader joe,
    Coop pretty much all the same
    So whole foods sure why not

  7. I appreciate the support for a local business. However, I do not like the prepared foods at the co-op. Whole Foods will provide another lunchtime option.

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