Foods May Be Whole, Ethics Are Not

It seems as if the furor over the behavior of Whole Foods Chairman and CEO, John Mackey, isn’t going to die down anytime soon. It shouldn’t. His tactics for growing his business at the expense of his competition’s were terribly unethical. Business isn’t war; business can be conducted competetively and fairly. To disparage one’s competition in an underhanded way shows a weakness for doing things the right way. Apologizing after eight years of irresponsibility is not going to lead to forgiveness for Mackey. I was at Whole Foods in West Hartford, Connecticut, this past weekend. Sure, it is a nice store with nice products and nice employees. However, the behavior of the CEO (how can he lead a company that cultivates such a wholesome image effectively now?) leaves a bad taste in your mouth. There are a lot of people that already cannot afford to shop for the premium products that Whole Foods sells. If Whole Foods succeeds in swallowing up Wild Oats, then you would think that prices can only go in one direction, up. Mackey’s goal of acquiring his number one rival, Wild Oats Markets, Inc. is misguided. I used to shop at Wild Oats, also in West Hartford, but that was before Whole Foods came to town. When I lived in Boston, Massachusetts, I shopped at Bread & Circus, which eventually became Whole Foods, and I loved it, so that is why I switched my allegiance to Whole Foods from Wild Oats. Still, I think we need both competing on the same level in order to keep them honest and to keep the consumer as the number one priority. One certainty, I prefer many of the locally owned markets to the large chains. You can get a heck of a lot more value for only a slightly higher price, and you support local merchants in the process. Now that is a win-win. Natural, local, and organic foods taste much better when purchased at the markets that I really love:

Garden of Light, Glastonbury, Connecticut

Putney Food Co-Op, Putney, Vermont

Highland Park Market, Manchester, Connecticut

It’s Only Natural Market, Middletown, CT

Also, special mention to Holcomb Farm C.S.A. in Granby, Connecticut, where we get our vegetables (and some fruit) during the summer. Community Supported Agriculture, makes so much sense. Whole Foods may do some good, but shipping products from all over the world is less desirable than ever before, no matter how good it tastes. In New England, there are many C.S.A.’s, and they can be located through the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Which brings me back to ethics in business. Food is a big business. Just read one of my favorite books, Fast Food Nation, by Erich Schlosser, and you will realize just how big agribusiness really is. At Horst Engineering, we make products for an entirely different industry, but we are keen observers of all businesses. We note the slip ups made by more heralded business leaders, like John Mackey of Whole Foods, and we attempt to adjust our course to make sure that we are clear of the potential pitfalls that trap otherwise solid businesses in the vortex of misjudgement.

2 Responses to “Foods May Be Whole, Ethics Are Not”

  1. 1 SL 18 July 2007 at 8:21 am

    I just read a BusinessWeek article by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, of the Yale School of Management. I know Jeff. He is very big on CEO ethics:

  1. 1 Whole (Foods) Lot of Problems « Life Adventures Trackback on 14 August 2008 at 9:26 am

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