« Back to Home Page

Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value: The Good, The Bad, and The Questionable

3p Contributor | Friday May 25th, 2012 | 12 Comments

Originally Posted on EcoSalon

By Jessica Marati
For some, Whole Foods is a god-send – a convenient, well-stocked supermarket filled with a trustworthy, if somewhat overpriced, mix of natural and organic foods. For others, Whole Foods is a symbol of capitalism‘s ills, a cornerstone of the “Industrialized Organic” complex that is contributing to the death of the small farmer.

Most people I know lie somewhere in the middle: they can’t deny the appeal of a one-stop-shop for their healthy yuppie lifestyles, but they’re skeptical of how conscience-friendly a company can be once it’s grown into a publicly traded corporation. In this week’s Behind the Label, we take a look at the good and the bad of Whole Foods, with a particular focus on its in-house 365 Everyday Value® brand.

If you’re a natural foodie on a budget, you’re probably familiar with 365 Everyday Value, which encompasses a range of products from butter to body wash to balsamic vinegar. 365 products tend to be basic in nature and cheaper than their shelf-mates. But how trust-worthy are they?

The Good
Whole Foods had a humble start as a small natural foods store in Austin, Texas, started by 25-year-old college drop-out (and current CEO) John Mackey, his then-girlfriend Rene Lawson, and a staff of 19. Today, Whole Foods is a publicly-traded company with more than 310 stores in the U.S. and United Kingdom and plans for aggressive expansion in secondary markets over the next decade.

In addition to stocking a wide variety of organic, natural, and locally-sourced foods, Whole Foods also offers a number of generic products under its 365 Everyday Value® brand, which claims to “fill your pantry without emptying your pocketbook.” All 365 products are either certified organic or enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, which verifies that genetically modified organisms are not present in the product. As mentioned in the recent article Behind the Label on Kashi, verification from the Non-GMO Project can be difficult given the preponderance of genetically engineered crops in America, so Whole Foods’ commitment to this issue is worth noting.

Whole Foods has also been a heavy proponent of GMO labeling, a popular topic in the natural foods community.

Our goal at Whole Foods Market is to provide informed consumer choice with regard to genetically engineered ingredients (also known as GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms). Clearly labeled products enable shoppers who want to avoid foods made with GMOs to do so.

In addition to its stance on GMO transparency, Whole Foods’ quality standards have been recognized as being among the top in the industry, and the company maintains a list of “unacceptable ingredients,” which it says will never appear on its shelves.

The Bad
The 365 Everyday Value® brand’s reputation hasn’t always been so squeaky clean. In 2008, a television report from WJLA in Washington, DC, questioned if consumers can trust Whole Foods 365 organic products if the label says that they are made in China. Standards are more lax in China, and the distance these products travels lessens the environmental benefit of choosing organic.

In a detailed rebuttal to WJLA, Whole Foods’ Organic Certification Coordinator Joe Dickson said that products from China can absolutely be certified organic. In the rebuttal, Dickson points out that USDA organic certification measures food integrity regardless of where in the world crops are grown.

Whole Foods Market is a pioneer in promoting and selling natural and organic foods and we have done more in our history as a company to promote and build organics than any other retailer … This is not “selling an image;” this is actually making sure that every one of our 275 stores is operating in compliance with the National Organic Standards and upholding organic integrity in everything they do.

Whole Foods’ assurances have done little to appease foods activists like the Organic Consumers Association, which picketed a Chicago Whole Foods in 2011 for selling genetically modified brands like Tofutti, Kashi, and Boca Burgers.

The Questionable
Whole Foods has taken major strides toward offering organic and GMO-free products at reasonable prices, particularly with its 365 Everyday Value® line. But naturally, the company’s growth and success have earned it many critics, including author and food activist Michael Pollan, who associated Whole Foods with what he calls “Industrialized Organic” in his popular book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey responded to Pollan’s claims in an open letter:

I am not sure if merely because of our size and success Whole Foods Market deserves the pejorative label “Big Organic” or “Industrial Organic,” or even to be linked to those categories. I would argue instead that organic agriculture owes much of its growth and success over the past 20 years to Whole Foods Market’s successful growth and commitment to organic. As an organization we continually challenge ourselves to be responsible and ethical tenants of the planet. Through our stores, large and small organic farmers, both local and international, can offer their products to an increasingly educated population that is more interested in organics every day.

Pollan, who professes much respect for Mackey and Whole Foods, responded:

After visiting a great many large organic farms to research my book, many of them your suppliers, it seems to me undeniable that organic agriculture has industrialized over the past few years, and that Whole Foods has played a part in that process–for good and for ill … And as I tried to make clear in my account of the organic industry, much is gained when organic gets big … But surely we can recognize all these important gains without turning a blind eye to the costs: the sacrifice of small farmers and of some of the founding principles of organic farming (its commitment to polyculture, for example; to “whole” rather than highly processed foods; to social and economic sustainability, etc.)

It all seems to trace back to the big corporation/small business dilemma: do you buy your organic kale and locally-harvested honey at the strip mall supermarket, or do you support your local farmers and neighborhood natural foods store? If price wasn’t an inhibitor, I’m sure most conscious consumers would go with the second option.

But even on Whole Foods’ shelves that conundrum exists. Buy the locally-sourced salad dressing for $13.99, or the generic 365 version for $3.99? The up-and-coming fair trade brand body lotion for $15, or the 365 cream for $5?

While I appreciate the lower-priced options, I can’t help but notice a disconnect. If Whole Foods wants to truly support local farmers and small businesses, the company should stop undercutting their offerings with its lower-priced, mass-produced, 365-branded items.

***

EcoSalon is the web’s leading conscious culture and fashion publication for women. Featuring style, design, life and culture, the arts, food, sex and relationships, EcoSalon is the first and finest general interest website for the modern green woman.

SEE ALSO:

Behind the Label: The Kashi Controversy

Behind the Label: McDonald’s See What We’re Made Of Campaign

Behind the Label: Chipotle, Food With Integrity

Check out all Behind the Label columns here.

Image: Robert Banh


▼▼▼      12 Comments     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup
  • e.haight

    “Whole Foods has also been a heavy proponent of GMO labeling, a popular topic in the natural foods community.”

    Yeah right, as of now, most countries still don’t pursue GMO labeling, only selected countries and states do a mandatory labeling of food products.

    • Kody Dean Sanders

      How does “Most countries still don’t pursue GMO labeling, only selected countries and states do a mandatory labeling of food products” disprove what Whole Foods is doing?

  • KPM

    Take away the 365 offerings and many of us wouldn’t be able to shop there at all. The local $13 salad dressing isn’t a feasible choice for many people.

    • Christy Ham Walsh

      That goes along the lines of what I have to say. I understand the author’s statements… “While I appreciate the lower-priced options, I can’t help but notice a disconnect. If Whole Foods wants to truly support local farmers and small businesses, the company should stop undercutting their offerings with its lower-priced, mass-produced, 365-branded items.” My family makes a strong effort to buy local because we believe it’s important to build local economy and job markets. On the other hand, it’s my opinion that the choice should be left to the consumer. Anyone who feels led to only support local markets is free to do so, but most people have a tight budget these days and they should also have the organic and non-GMO options as well.

    • KJ

      One should be making their own salad dressing with all natural, no preservative ingredients. FAR cheaper too!!! In addition I have found it tastes better.

      • karen

        KJ,
        you are totally right about making your own salad dressings.
        very easy, quick, cheap and definitely tasty and better for you.

  • p.

    What I don’t understand is how come the local products are that costly? Local should simply not cost as much because of less travel expenses to get it on the shelf.

    Is it the local vendor selling it to WW so high that the markup has to be that much or is it WW selling vendor’s products that compete with 365 high so you would buy the 365 brand instead?

    • Guest 2

      It is all about economies of scale. On a per-unit basis, it may be more expensive to move a small amount of product a few miles than to move a large amount of product a few hundred miles.

  • Keith Tauber

    This author smacks of the food elites that make me ill. If you have money falling out of your ears, then by all means buy the $13 dressing. But if you are like me, and cannot afford spending insane amounts for elite local highly over priced food, then the lower cost alternatives are a real God send. Now, if the lower cost options are full of gmo’s then that is not a bargain at all is it. But if they are equal to the over priced products from local farmers then I am going to buy the lower priced food every time and be happy doing it.

    • Addison Dave

      So eating healthy food is elitist? Maybe it’s your diet that’s “making you ill”. You should thank people who shop at Whole Foods for creating a market that will ultimately lower the price of good food. You should be proud to spend extra on food that helps create a viable local economy. Eating poor will keep you poor.

      • leece

        People eat poor because that’s what they can afford. You are missing the point. It’s sad to think that people are finally able to purchase quality organic food at a low price from the 365 line only to find out it may not be so healthy after all.
        Simple organic food should be affordable and available to ALL.

        • Ariel Isble

          Most people, especially students on a budget and families with children, can’t afford groceries that go over $200 a month. It’s not feasible to go to WF and buy organic food over budget just because it’s local when they have other bills to pay. Sure, it would be nice to always buy local, but sometimes that’s just too much. If local is going to cost a freakin’ arm and a leg to purchase, then they either need to change something about how they are manage their business or just accept the fact that most Americans can’t afford those kind of prices. There’s a reason why places like Trader Joe’s and WF’s are so popular. You can get gmo-free foods at a relatively reasonable price and it’s /still/ better than the giant conventional grocery stores. What a still thing to complain about, really. If you really want to save the world, grow your own produce and meat/dairy. See how easy /that/ is.