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Raz Godelnik headshot

It's Getting REAL in the Whole Foods Parking Lot, Good News for Execs

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.
I’m sure that when Whole Foods’ executives saw for the first time the YouTube video ‘Whole Foods Parking Lot (see the video below)’ they were relieved. This self-mocking parody on a shopper at Whole Foods, they’ve learned, is very funny and does not include any nasty language. You won’t find any mention of John Mackey (Whole Foods’ co-founder and co-CEO) and his positions on health care reform, unions and climate change, not to mention the code name “rahodeb.”

We’re safe, they probably told each other – no boycotting groups on Facebook this time, just more than 1.77 million people humming to themselves ‘It's getting' REAL in the Whole Foods Parking Lot’.

This rap video, created by a collective called Fog and Smog, chronicles the story of a young shopper at Whole Foods in LA. It presents a hilarious picture of the shopping experience at Whole Foods, from the long search for a parking space to wandering in the store with a little shopping cart, looking for items on such as “Organic chicken, Kale Salad and a Lemon Twist,” while trying to avoid other customers that somehow always seem annoying.

Although the video is making fun of Whole Foods and its customers it is definitely not a harsh criticism of the chain. Even when it is addressing issues Whole Foods has been criticized about in the past such as its high prices (remember ‘Whole Paycheck’?), it is doing it in a subtle way, joking about the fact that all the video’s hero wants to do is to “pay my 80 bucks for 6 things and get the heck out.”

This is exactly what Dave Wittman (aka DJ Dave), the man behind the video, wanted do to. He didn’t want to create a biting manifesto against Whole Foods, but more of a piece about “him laughing at himself and people like him who find themselves getting stressed trying to find a parking space at Whole Foods or dealing with irritating fellow shoppers,” as he explained it in an interview with Tanya Jo Miller on CyberFrequencies.

So, there’s no wonder Whole Foods loves it. “We’ve all gotten a big kick out of this video and we love the creativity that went into producing it,” Elizabeth Leader Smith, the national media relations coordinator for Whole Foods told Bites. “It’s playful and entertaining. We are sharing it with our friends and team members and e-mails continue to pour in from those excited about it. We thank Fog and Smog for making us smile!” she added.

Likewise, by no means this song is generating any sort of negative response from customers like past stakeholders’ protests did. It’s more common to find comments on the video such as “story of my life. best video EVER,” or “I love Whole Foods and I love this vid. Too funny” then “..The ridiculously high prices aren't the only thing that's outrageous about Whole Foods. Scratch the surface and they're about as un-hippie as a company can be.” I think the video actually gets more customers to feel cooler about their shopping experience in Whole Foods, now that it is presented as a cool rap song they can identify with.

For Whole Foods, this case is definitely more of an opportunity than a risk. Unlike situations in the past such as the uproar of customers against John Mackey’s views on health care reform, complaints of unions and shareholders that Mackey prevents unionization among his employees, or protests of animal-rights activists on Whole Foods’ practices, there’s no need here for the company to dig deep and see how much it is really committed to satisfying its stakeholders.

For Whole Foods stakeholders’ satisfaction is a significant part of its DNA. If you’ll look at the company’s core values, you will find that the second value, just after selling the highest quality products is ‘satisfying and delighting our customers.’ Whole Foods explains there that customers are “our most important stakeholders in our business and the lifeblood of our business. Only by satisfying our customers first do we have the opportunity to satisfy the needs of our other stakeholders.”

Customers come first but are not the only ones Whole Foods is pledging to satisfy.  The core values also mention employees (or ‘team members’ as they’re called at Whole Foods), communities and shareholders. The emphasis on stakeholders in general and customers specifically are reflection of John Mackey’s ‘conscious capitalism’ philosophy, which basically says that business should have a higher purpose. In Mackey’s vision it means that instead of just chasing after greater profits and working for investors, Whole Foods should keep in mind the needs of its stakeholders first.

To Whole Foods’ and Mackey’s credit it can be said that they walk the talk many times, working to meet their stakeholders’ demands, from providing customers with greater supply of local food and better information on animal welfare to empowering employees and getting them involved in decision making processes. Still, when it comes to issues that don’t fit Mackey’s beliefs, such as establishing a holistic climate change strategy or being more open to unionization efforts of employees, the company is much less eager to engage or change its practices.

In this case I don’t see any clash between the video and Mackey’s beliefs. Whole Foods is already making more efforts to offer less expensive products through their ‘365’ private brand for example, so they can easily use this video for their advantage showing that it’s actually getting easier to find a Pinot Noir in less than $20 or buying six items for less than $80.  Actually, I won’t be surprised if you will find Mackey singing to himself ‘It’s getting’ REAL in the Whole Foods Parking Lot’ next time he’s parking there.

Image credit: FogandSmogFilms Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

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Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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