Monday, December 1, 2008

We're Just Trying To Mind Our Own (Local) Business

By Brian Rohter

You may have heard that New Seasons Market has found ourselves caught in the crossfire of an ongoing legal dispute between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Whole Foods Market. The disagreement has to do with whether or not the Whole Foods merger with Wild Oats should be “allowed to proceed”. Yes, we know that seems like a crazy thing to be fighting about since all the Wild Oats stores that were around here have already been closed or turned into Whole Foods stores, but neither the federal government or Whole Foods asked us for our opinion about that.

You also are probably trying to figure out what this could possibly have to do with us. That’s a great question. Since we’ve been minding our own (local) business and have never expressed an opinion one way or the other about this merger, we were wondering the same thing.

As it turns out, because of their legal dispute with the FTC, Whole Foods has an opportunity to try and force us to give them copies of some of our most confidential financial records – for instance what our sales are, week by week, at each of our stores. They’ve also demanded all of our files that detail our strategic plans, all of our marketing plans and all of our studies about where we are considering opening new stores. You can see the entire subpoena here, and below is a partial list of what they’re trying to get (quoted directly from the subpoena):

3. All documents relating to Whole Food’s acquisition of Wild Oats, including documents discussing the effect of the merger on you.


4. All documents discussing competition with Whole Foods or Wild Oats, including responses by you to a new Whole Foods or Wild Oats store and responses by you to prices, product selection, quality, or services at Whole Foods or Wild Oats stores.


5. All market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to competition in each Geographic Area, including documents discussing market shares.

6. All market studies, strategic plans or competition analyses relating to the sale of natural and organic products, including the sale of natural and organic products in your stores.

7. All documents relating to your plans to increase the shelf space at your stores allocated to natural and organic products, the number of natural and organic products sold in your stores, or the sales of natural or organic products in your stores.


8. All documents discussing your plans to renovate or improve your stores to sell additional natural and organic products or to open stores emphasizing natural and organic products.


9. Provide documents sufficient to show, or in the alternative submit a spread sheet showing: (a) the store name and address of each of your stores separately in each Geographic Area; and (b) for each store provide the total weekly sales for each week since January 1, 2006 to the current date.

I have to believe that any reasonable person would agree that it’s really over the top for Whole Foods to be asking for this information, especially since we have nothing to do with their lawsuit. It takes away the level playing field, creates an unnecessary risk for our business and has the potential to have a negative impact on our network of local growers, ranchers and suppliers. It also could permanently damage the fragile regional food system that we’ve been working to create and, in the end, could reduce options for Portlanders who choose to shop at locally owned stores.

New Seasons Market is a small, locally owned company that competes against large, multi-national chains including Whole Foods. Whole Foods has about 270 stores in cities all over North America and in England. We have 9 stores in the Portland area. Allowing Whole Foods to look through all of our private information about how we operate and what our plans are for the future unfairly adds to their already large size and financial advantage. We’ve been able to build a successful local business being David against their Goliath, and we’re happy to keep doing that, but we do object to having one hand tied behind our back.

Whole Foods says that we should give our information to their lawyers and they claim the lawyers won’t let anyone else in the organization see them. That’s like trusting the fox to guard the henhouse – and we don’t have any faith it’s going to work like that.

I’m sorry to say this, but some of the people at Whole Foods have a history of less than stellar behavior when it comes to competing fairly. There are two obvious examples of this. First, last year, their CEO John Mackey was caught posting derogatory information online about Wild Oats, using a made up screen name. Here’s a New York Times story about that.

Second, during the first round of this law suit last year, the FTC released a bunch of e-mails that some Whole Foods executives had sent over the previous few years. You can find the entire (really lengthy) FTC report here, but just to give you a flavor of it, below are a few excerpts of Whole Foods’ comments in regards to Wild Oats:

“Wild Oats needs to be removed from the playing field...”

“…[m]y goal is simple – I want to crush them and am willing to spend a lot of money in the process.”

“...elimination of a competitor in the marketplace, competition for sites, competition for acquisitions, and operational economies of scale. We become the Microsoft of the natural foods industry.”


Yikes!


This case has been going on for about 18 months. This is the second time Whole Foods has tried to get access to our records. Last year they also filed a motion to try and get our financial records turned over to them; not just to their “outside” lawyers, but to executives who are on the Whole Foods payroll and work in the Whole Foods corporate offices in Austin, Texas. What possible reason do we have to believe they won’t just try and do that again?

When I received this subpoena my immediate reaction was disbelief. I was confident there was no way our legal system would force us to give our private business records to one of our competitors. It looks like I may have been wrong about that. We’re fighting this (and running up whopping legal bills in the process) and here's a copy of the motion we filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Amazingly, our lawyers tell us that there’s a chance we’ll lose the case and will be required to turn over the information.

Of course I asked what would happen if we refused. The answer was that we could be held in contempt of court and subject to large fines or even jail time. In case anyone is planning on visiting me there, I really love doing the daily Oregonian crossword and also M&M Peanuts. (My wife Eileen doesn’t think this is very funny.)

We’ll keep you posted on this as the situation evolves.


137 comments:

Heidi G said...

I'm afraid your answer will be "Nothing," but is there anything we can do to help? Any letters or phone calls that will aid you?

beerick said...

That's insanity. We'll continue supporting your markets. I imagine you'll have petitions at your stores if you think that'll do any good.

Lynn Siprelle said...

GO BRIAN! This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I imagine even regular Whole Foods shoppers in PDX would be sickened by it enough to stop shopping there until they knock it off. (I'd threaten to boycott, but I never shop anywhere but with you guys!) I hope this gets a lot of attention in the media.

Annagrace said...

Ridiculous! Another reason to buy local instead of supporting W.F. I second the last commenter--hope this gets some press. We love your stores SO MUCH and have only ever had the best service, help, and selection!

Gil Johnson said...

Stunts like this might explain the karma of Whole Foods stock plummeting from $65 a share in January to about $10 now.

Dionne said...

I will now go out of my way to shop at New Seasons instead of Whole Foods. I used to go to WF if it was more convenient based on where I needed to go during the day, but now I will make sure I shop at New Seasons. What they are doing is despicable. If there is anything we as concerned citizens can do, other than not shopping at WF, please let us know. Thanks!

Halifornia said...

Dionne. Well said.

As consumers, the one thing we can ALWAYS do is vote with our dollar.

The most immediate help we can give New Seasons in this legal battle is simple: dont spend a single cent at Whole Foods.

Their behavior is despicable, disgusting, greedy, selfish, and goes against the very image they try to nurture in the public consciousness. And it could very well be their undoing.

melancholic optimist said...

We absolutely love New Seasons, and we will continue to shop there as long as it is possible for us to do so. As compared to Whole Foods, your prices are amazing, your choice of products is much better, the atmosphere and the treatment of the customers by the employees is nearly always exceptional. Thank you for making a fantastic place to shop, and I hope that the hooligans at Whole Foods find a big boot in their face on this one.

Prynne said...

"I imagine even regular Whole Foods shoppers in PDX would be sickened by it enough to stop shopping there until they knock it off."

You're right. This is appalling. I'm done with WF.

New Seasons has better produce anyway...

Lois B said...

We love New Seasons, and still shop at the Arbor Lodge and Concordia stores, even though we moved out to St. Johns (which would be a GREAT place for a new store, if you are so inclined...) In our household, we used to refer to Whole Foods Market as Whole Paycheck Market, because of their high prices. For my money, you have better prices, way better (local!) produce, and it is always worth the extra drive time to shop at your stores. The only time I go into a Whole Foods is if I'm at Powell's and need a snack. But you know... I don't need a snack that much. No more Whole Foods!

Josephine said...

I LOVE shopping at New Seasons - you have the best food anywhere, and the most helpful staff! If there is anything I can do, please let me know - I'm a regular Saturday shopper at the Orenco Station store.

Ruby said...

Quid pro quo...if you lose, I think reciprocity is in order here with WF setting the balance straight by delivering their own PDX market penetration plans, prices and marketing strategies. In the meantime, I'd shop this puppy of a story out. New, innovative hostile take-overs make a good read.

Scott Rogers said...

Isn't the real bully here the FTC?

New Seasons can pretend this has nothing to do with them, but they can really only do so if they have no intentions of growing and expanding their business.

Growing and expanding is what Whole Foods (love 'em or hate 'em) did in acquiring Wild Oats. The FTC makes (what seems to me) a completely unnecessary anti-trust case out of it, and changes the rules in the middle of the game.

Is Whole Foods desperate? Yes.

Will Whole Foods lose their case with the FTC? Probably.

Will New Seasons be there to clean up the mess and grab some market share when it happens? Probably...and if/when the FTC comes after New Seasons they might wish they had opened their mouths to say something about the FTC's treatment of Whole Foods.

New Seasons shouldn't disclose everything behind the magic curtain to a competitor. It also shouldn't pretend it doesn't have a market interest in the outcome.

And for the record, I prefer New Seasons.

Jennifer Pagliaro said...

Please get the word out about this. Post this letter in your stores to let more customers know! We are a loyal base of caring, committed folks who stand behind your principles and dedication. WE WANT TO HELP YOU FIGHT THIS!

Andrew said...

Brian, I had the good fortune to work at the New Seasons Sellwood store from 2001 to 2003. I've since moved on and away from the Portland market, but even now from my distant perch I'm astonished at these proceedings. I wish you and New Seasons all the best in dealing with this jaw-dropping move.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good and interesting story I just finished reading in the www.naturalspecialtyfoodsmemo.com Blog about the Whole Foods subpoena issue and New Seasons Market. Well worth reading. It's not in favor of what Whole Foods is doing.

Link: http://naturalspecialtyfoodsmemo.blogspot.com/2008/12/retail-memo-whole-foods-wants-court.html

Title:

Monday, December 1, 2008
Retail Memo: Whole Foods Wants A Court-Mandated Financial Records Dump from Portland-based New Seasons Market; it Says For its Battle Against the FTC

Cheers!

Michael B - Portland

Alicia Carrier said...

boo, this is total crap. i'll be reposting this everywhere. good luck!

Anonymous said...

I love my New Seasons! Dont give you info away! Keep the evil whole foods out of my neighborhood! Long live New Seasons!

Patrick in PDX said...

Hang in there! We in PDX will support you. Help is on the way on January 20, 2009. The FTC under the Bush Administration has done a horrible job (no big surprise) asleep at the wheel when they should be reasonably regulating the marketplace. The FTC should not be complicit in a bald-faced attempt to leverage a market analysis of a merger into forcing a small (and superior) participant in the specialty foods market such as New Seasons Markets to divulge trade secrets that will most certainly be used by Whole Foods to pave over ingenuity, a superior customer experience, and good local jobs in a mad-dash to profits.

corndog said...

Spread the word!

http://is.gd/9QAl (reddit)
http://is.gd/9QBE (digg)

I have spent my last dime at Whole Foods.

Bear said...

Thanks for letting us know, Brian. There are a lot of us lawyers out here who think that stinks. I love what you do -- keep the faith.

supresmooth said...

This is why you guys should totally hire me: because I love the little guy!

I'm just sayin', application is posted online.

:)

edison said...

WTF! Mackey's insane. I saw a vid of an interview he did with Michael Pollen in front of a live audience in Berkley. He's certifiable.
NS is the best! Keep the faith and let us know if you need help. You have many loyal supporters.

heidi said...

Holy cow. I had no idea WF was so aggressive. Thanks for bringing this subject to light.

Anonymous said...

This is a bad move by WF but I disagree that their store has worse products or prices than yours, at least your North Portland store. I can't count the number of times I've had to paw through rotting produce, especially in summer, to find the one box of berries that wasn't already fungal mush. Some of the staff there are great but there are also some who play the bored Portland hipster to the hilt. Sorry but if I'm paying what still amounts to crazy damn prices for food I expect you to work a lot harder and be a lot nicer. Good luck with the legal stuff though.

lisavollrath said...

I'm in Texas---and Whole Foods just lost my business. I'll be shopping only at their lone independant competitor from now on. Assuming, of course, the they don't decide to crush them, too.

Dan Z said...

I shop about 95% at New Seasons and 5% at Whole Foods. I may have to eliminate that 5% if WF keeps this up. NS is a superior store, and I'm so thankful they exist. It's funny, we used to get so excited about eating at the WF deli, but compared to the food at NS, it's crap. We never eat at WF anymore, and we may have to boycott them if they keep this up. WF employees should also put pressure on their own company to play fair.

dalas v. said...

I already preferred New Seasons to Whole Foods, but as another commenter said, now I will go out of my way to only shop at New Seasons. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and I won't support it with my dollars.

Jennie F said...

Thanks everyone for your support, but please refrain from dropping the F-bomb here so we don't have to resort to moderating comments. We're still a family owned business after all!

kb said...

thanks so much for this update. I love the quote"That's like trusting a fox to guard the henhouse."

Marcus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcus said...

I just created a "Boycott Whole Foods" social network on Ning. Join it, and let's self-organize some protest action right here in Portland!

Jesse said...

wow, I never knew any of this. I will send this to my wife and friends, and ask that they send this to their friends and so on. that is some shady business ethics WF has. New Seasons has a better bulk/produce/prices anyway! Keep up the good work and Portland will provide for you.

jess said...

Is there anything we can do to help?

Tex said...

Bring New Seasons to MLK!

Anonymous said...

I don't shop at WF anyway, but certainly won't be now. I think an official, Portland-wide bocott would be great.

Please open up in St.Johns!! Although, the bike ride over to Arbor Lodge is pretty nice.

Would love to hear of anything we can do other than staying as far away from Whole Foods as possible.

Eli said...

That's ridiculous and evil.

I deeply resent Whole Foods/Wild Oats and I'm thrilled to have New Seasons!

BS said...

This is STUPID. I vow to not shop at that evil place again. We absolutely LOVE New Seasons and I'm heartbroken to think that wf would jeapordize how amazing you guys are. We're pulling for you! Let us know what we can do to help.

Anonymous said...

Let's keep the eye on the ball here.

It's the FTC allowing every Telecom, Bank, Airline, and every other company with powerful lobbies to merge. Yet in a diversified low margin industry, it spends millions of tax payers money and time to block a merger that has had little recourse for the average public.

Whole Foods dropped the ball for sure. But look and see the root cause!!

Adam Oakley said...

It's discouraging when corporations with huge budgets are allowed to force smaller competitors to release private information. Hopefully the court will side with New Seasons. We love shopping at the friendliest store in town!

Brian Rohter said...

Hello Everyone,

Brian Rohter chiming in to answer some questions and clarify a few issues.

Thanks for all of your support. It’s comforting to know that other people share our sense of disappointment in this whole situation. That in itself is worth a lot to us.

To Heidi G, beerick, Dionne and all of the other folks who are asking, “what can we do to help?”—we appreciate the offers but don’t really have an answer. This dispute has been happening, on and off, for about eighteen months and we’ve just been dealing with it privately. The only reason I published yesterday’s blog post was because the FTC put information about New Seasons Market up on their public website and we started to get questions about what was going on. We wanted to make it clear that we were filing a legal action to protect ourselves—not to try and gain some advantage through the legal system. We’re quite content to do all our competing in the marketplace.

In regards to Scott Roger’s question, “Isn’t the real bully here the FTC?”—some people think so and others don't, but I’m not expressing an opinion one way or the other. However, I do have to point out, that right now it’s not the FTC who is demanding our private records. It’s Whole Foods. Also, we’ve heard from grocery chains in some other cities where Whole Foods operates that their records haven’t been subpoenaed. That does make us wonder why Whole Foods thinks they need our files but not the files of some of their other competitors. Scott also suggests that somehow New Seasons has a stake in the outcome of the dispute between the FTC and Whole Foods. I respectfully disagree. From our perspective, it’s a done deal and the merger has happened. We can’t imagine any action that the FTC can take, one way or the other, that will have an impact on our company (unless of course they actually force us to give our private information to Whole Foods). Also Scott, our lawyers are telling us that it may cost us between $250,000 and $500,000 to comply with all the requirements in the Whole Foods subpoena. That type of expense for a smaller business like ours is a huge problem.

Anonymous, sorry about the bad berries and mediocre service you’ve had at our Arbor Lodge store. Those local berries in the height of summer can turn really quickly and it sounds like we need to do a better job of culling them. I’ll pass your comments on to the produce department over there.

t said...

We can do more than just vote with our dollar. We can spread the information to empower others to make educated decisions about who they want to support. They can't help if they don't know.

Write letters or emails to your local papers. Call radio shows that may be discussing local business like the Tom Hartmann's show. Maybe we can get something published or talked about.

good luck

SteamyKitchen said...

Good for you New Seasons! I vote for protecting your company.

pdxjody said...

I read about this on another local food blog & was absolutely stunned. I have never been a fan of Whole Paycheck...er Whole Foods & have only stopped in when necessary.

I have always appreciated the customer service I receive at New Seasons & am happy to say you will continue to receive my business.

I own my own company & know how hard it is to make a go of it - to have to face unfair competition and requests for inside information makes my blood boil. I plan on sending this blog post out to my 600+ clients in the Portland area - maybe New Seasons can't do much about this FTC request but we as consumers can maybe do something about it!!

Rachael Vroom said...

pdxjody wasn't kidding - I just got her email. Keep up the good fight, New Seasons. I'll be forwarding the news to my (admittedly smaller) circle of friends, and rest assured, Whole Foods will not be on my shopping list.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I sent to my congressmen (made a couple typos, though):

Dear Sir,

I recently read a really disturbing blog posted on the New Seasons website. New Seasons is a Portland-base natural foods chain of stores (only 9 in total). They are being subpeonaed by Whole Foods to turn over massive amount of financial, marketing, and other strategic materials. If this happens it would be ruinous to New Season, which is a great member of my community and a supporter of local agriculture. Plesae do what you can to help. The blog gives a much richer description of this insane situation: http://newseasonsmarket.blogspot.com/2008/11/were-just-trying-to-mind-our-own-local.html

Best Regards,
James

Paige said...

Hey, Whole Foods Market here. Wanted to share our point of view with your readers. We are reading and listening to your concerns so we hope you’ll be open to reading ours.

The last year has been something of a nightmare for the administrative team members here who have been jumping through hoops to meet requests from the FTC. While our customers, our competitors’ customers, industry insiders and merger experts all seem to agree that customers have not been adversely affected by the Whole Foods Market/Wild Oats merger, the FTC continues to press their case forward.

While we would love to see this whole issue go away, we have no option but to defend ourselves against the FTC's ongoing effort. We know that New Seasons and many other fine natural foods stores are serving their customers well and that those customers, like ours, continue to have ample choices even after our merger with Wild Oats. Since the FTC insists that we have harmed these markets, we have to defend ourselves by showing that these markets are doing well. Part of our defense is based on gathering information from third parties through subpoenas, mostly from competing retailers but also from some vendors who supply Whole Foods Market.

We have not singled out New Seasons. Rather they are one of 96 companies (stores and vendors) that our outside legal counsel has subpoenaed. Why so many? The FTC has targeted Whole Foods Market in 29 different markets, and we must now defend against the claim that we do not face substantial competition from other supermarkets in all of these markets.

If we could defend ourselves without gathering information from competitors, we would. We don’t appreciate being put into this situation by the FTC. This is absolutely NOT an attempt to look into competitors’ information. In fact, no one inside Whole Foods Market will look at this information at all – only our outside counsel and their consultants are authorized to see the information gathered due to the FTC’s protective order. For those non-lawyers reading this, subpoenas and protective orders are a standard part of litigation practiced in virtually every antitrust case in the United States. The protective order prohibits any of this information from being shared with any Whole Foods Market team member, including in-house legal counsel. And while we understand that some of you will have trouble trusting the government system of protective orders, we give you our word that Whole Foods Market will not breach that trust.

We find it very unfortunate that the FTC’s ongoing pursuit to affect our merger (which was consummated more than a year ago) continues to be burdensome to Whole Foods Market, other stores like New Seasons, and U.S. taxpayers. We know the New Seasons and Whole Foods Market customers are a dedicated, caring group of people. We thank you for your concern for your local stores. Know that while we may not always see things eye to eye, we are working toward the same goal – making the world a better place through food choices.

(Posted by Whole Foods Market team member Paige Brady on behalf of our leadership team.)

corndog said...

Nice comment, Paige. Care to comment further on your CEO's statement about becoming the Microsoft of natural foods?

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate your struggle as a local business & wish the absolute best for you! Folks love to bash WFM for prices, being corporate, etc., etc. I doubt many WFM shoppers & non-shoppers realize the positive impact they have on our environment, poverty, hunger & so on. Do you know another corporation that works with the citizens of impoverished countries, offering loans to them to start businesses that pull them out of poverty? Do you know another corporation that tirelessly seeks out fair trade, fair wages & maintains the highest animal compassion standards? WFM supports local companies & vendors, holds 5% days, where that percentage of daily sales in a store benefits a local need/organization. WFM donates food & much more numerous times daily to Food Gatherers & non-profit organizations. Whole Foods Market has eliminated plastic shopping bags, offering only paper or a refund for bringing your own bag.
WFM supports local farmers, vendors, etc., whenever possible!! I could go on & on...
WFM will keep my business, because they are who they say they are. Again, I wish you much success! I also wish WFM continued success in making a difference & offering the best to those who make the choice to do more with their grocery dollars.

Brian Rohter said...

Paige Brady from the Whole Foods corporate office has posted here on our blog explaining their perspective on this situation. We appreciate her gumption and are thankful for her kind words about our company and our customers.

Also, Whole Foods just put out a press release, saying most of the same things as Paige and assuring us that we have nothing to fear if we’re forced to turn over all of our private information to them. I have to say that I disagree with their point of view.

Whole Foods says, “ . . . all responses are subject to an FTC-issued protective order. The protective order precludes any of this information from being shared with any WFM employee, including in-house counsel. Only outside counsel and their consultants can see this information.”

Sorry, but they’re leaving quite a bit out of that statement.

Just take a look at the history of Whole Foods actions. Last year, in the first round of this dispute, private information was subpoenaed from a bunch of grocery stores. All of those stores, including us, received the same promises of confidentiality—“only outside counsel will see these records, no employees of Whole Foods will ever see them, etc., etc”.

Then in the middle of that process, Whole Foods went to court to try to get all those same documents and files sent to their corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas so their in house counsel (the same one they’re talking about above that "will never see the private files") could look through them. Whole Foods position was, even though this attorney was an employee of Whole Foods and was on their “Leadership Team”, it was okay for her to see everyone else’s private data because she wasn’t engaged in “competitive decision making”.

Sound unbelievable? You can see for yourself at the FTC website. The link is http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0710114/070620response.pdf You’ll find it on page 3. Why should we believe they won’t try that again?

And those “consultants” that Paige refers to above? Once they’ve looked through our information they’re not going to “unlearn” it. The very nature of their job means they carry things they’ve learned from one job to another. Will they ever work for Whole Foods again?

And that protective order? There’s no real penalty for violating it.

In their press release Whole Foods says, “It is important to understand that no competitor will be disadvantaged by complying with the subpoena . . .”

Sorry again, but that’s incorrect. Aside from the issues we’ve already talked about, our lawyers are telling us that it may cost us between $250,000 and $500,000 to comply with all the requirements of the Whole Foods subpoena. That may not be a huge amount of money to a company the size of Whole Foods, but to us it is a fortune.

So as much as we’d like to just say, “No worries. Let’s all just get along”, in this instance we don’t see how we can do that. Whole Foods has the ability to make this problem go away. We hope they do.

ctb said...

I am a big supporter of New Seasons, and I wasn't at first. I clearly remember the first time I went to the New Seasons grocery at 33rd & Emerson, feeling like the whole thing was snobbish. But now 5 years later I couldn't think of shopping anywhere else.

Not only are the employees incredibly friendly (at both the Concordia and Arbor Lodge stores), but the food selection is great, especially the beer(!), things are easy to find, and the stores have a down home feel to them. My wife and I frequently run into friends or neighbors when stopping in for either a loaf of bread, or doing our shopping for the week.

I can't say I've ever had this same experience at Whole Foods. But, if there's any one single thing they could do to ever encourage me to shop there again it would be to kill this subpoena for New Seasons' private records.

I would also like to suggest that the FTC stop wasting our taxpayer dollars and allow the merger between Whole Foods and Wild Oats to take place. If anything, Whole Foods will help keep those stores open, keep those people employed, and also encourage competition, which I believe is healthy in the marketplace.

Good Luck New Seasons! I wish you the best.

The Bionic Belly said...

Hey Paige, the people of Portland aren't nearly as stupid as you'd like us to be. Your platitudes don't actually help your case. I'll never set foot in a Whole Foods store again, and I'm forwarding this blog post to everyone I know.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo said...

Greetings:

We received a number of e-mails today about the story we posted on Natural~Specialty Foods Memo yesterday, which is where Whole Foods Market,Inc. first read it.

They have responded on the Blog as well. Thought you all might want to read it:

Link:
http://naturalspecialtyfoodsmemo.blogspot.com/2008/12/retail-memo-whole-foods-wants-court.html

www.naturalspecialtyfoodsmemo.blogspot.com

Best regards.

ctb said...

I also have to believe, that if it's necessary for the FTC to have some form of proof that Whole Foods isn't harming the markets where they operate then there must be a far less invasive way than to subpoena all of these records.

Rebecca S. said...

I can't believe it is fair that any company could require this information from another. If anything discourages competition, it would be a company looking into another company's private financial files. It is outrageous.

We love New Seasons. I am a devoted online shopper and I could go on and on about how much I love your store, your employees, your online shopping division. Your employees have never been anything but kind and exceedingly helpful. You have no idea how much easier it makes my life AND I am feeding my family good, local food.

They are putting the new WF in near my house and I can't tell you how sad I am it is not a New Seasons. We moved from an area where WF was the only natural foods choice but I have barely set foot in there now in 3 yrs and I certainly won't now.

David said...

Well...that seals it...

I rarely, if ever, shop at Whole Wallet and now I'll actively avoid them regardless of the inconvenience.

Good luck and keep us posted!

supresmooth said...

RE: Paige

While our customers, our competitors’ customers, industry insiders and merger experts all seem to agree that customers have not been adversely affected by the Whole Foods Market/Wild Oats merger . . .

Um, no? I used to shop exclusively at Wild Oats. It was convenient, stocked an array of products I enjoy, and offered them at a price I was willing to pay. They sold tons of little-guy and local products, which I loved. As soon as Whole Foods took over, I no longer had a grocery store. The local and little-guy stuff was removed from the shelves. About a third of the products I regularly purchased at Wild Oats were no longer available as Whole Foods. The prices increased just as much, too. What was once and affordable $4.99 cooked chicken is now a $7.99 cooked chicken. The cost of fuel coupled with the cost of Whole Foods put the price way above my income level. I was effectively forced out, and now shop where ever I can find decent prices on food with the least amount of crap in it. This generally means truckin' it to Winco, Grocery Outlet, Safeway, and any and every farmer's market I can find.

Don't get me wrong, I liked farmer's markets before, but it wasn't about need then; it was just fun. I've lost the convenience and affordability I enjoyed at Wild Oats.

I like News Seasons, but they've always been more like a treat than a regular shopping ground.

So for me, the merger was devastating. I don't think you consulted very many "customers" or "competitor's customers" before you made that statement, as I am not alone.

Saiyah said...

I only shop at New Seasons for similar reasons as others have posted. I thought there might be an interest in reading a bit more about WF products and their lack of integrity. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_11128.cfm
If you search for Whole Foods Market on this site you'll come across information regarding a lawsuit brought about from Dr. Bronners because of a carcinogenic ingredient in WF 365 brand as well as problems with beef ranchers and other issues.
One of my issues with WF is that they claim to have "Whole Foods values" and to be a "certified organic grocer" nothing could be further from the truth. I could offer many examples, but I'm trying to not be too verbous.
One aspect that I love about Portland is the support of LOCAL businesses! I'm a former NS employee and you will always have my support! Keep up the fight Brian and Lisa!

Chris B said...

If they win and the information must be turned over, simply ask for the same information from them. IF the information was necessary for them, then surely their marketing plans must be necessary for New Seasons in it's legal proceedings.

Tori said...

Above someone commented about the Natural Specialty Food blog that featured your story. Whole Foods responded to it, in fact it was the link they sent me to when I questioned what they were doing. I guess it's their "official response".

They're saying that they don't want to do this and that their lawyers forced them to subpoena NSM and 95 others but they won't be looking at the financial information.

JW said...

It's sound to me like Whole Foods is trying to become the next Wal-Mart of the food chain..Play their game and have two sets of books! You would not be the first people on the planet to play the game this way! Good Luck. My husband and I just love your stores.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone here realizes that Whole Foods or their lawyers will never get to see the information that is being requested. The only people who will get to see the information are the lawyers for the FTC.

Anonymous said...

I'm voting with my dollars. Go New Seasons!!!!

Mindseye said...

I second the other person; is there anything we can do for you? I LOVE New Seasons and hold them in the highest respect... and want to see them around when I am ninety!

Torrid said...

Pretty outrageous. My co-editor (who also has his own blog, p3) and I have begin covering the story, at LoadedOrygun.net, a progressive community blog.

It seems to me that the onus is on WF to decide not to force the subpoena. They'll only do that if the PR gets too bad. A boycott won't do it; it's ultimately a silent protest that can take years to have a noticeable effect.

I think the best option for turning the offer of help into meaningful action, is a PICKET. Upset Portlanders should publicly demonstrate in front of WF stores, to protest the outrageous attempt to force disclosure of proprietary info, and intimidate a local, sustainable business.


So who's up for a picket? Email me at loadedtips-at-gmail.

Anyone up for a picket?

john gogol said...

If this is all on the up and up, I'd make a stand, say "no", go to jail if that's what happens. We today need to follow through on our principals more than ever. Enough corporate greed. Let it go to court, we would back you up, no bitching, you just need to get the correct PR out there now! NYT.

Torrid said...

yikes, many errors. That's what you get for commenting via IPhone. Please overlook them.

Saiyah said...

Alright Torrid! A picket is just what I wast thinking about last night.

dalas v. said...

My email to Whole Foods was met with a reply that boiled down to "We have to do it to prove we face competition. It's standard procedure."

Sorry, but just because you tell me you *have* to do something doesn't mean I go "Oh, alright then!" and blindly accept what you say. Sure, you're required to serve me that B.S., but I'm not going to eat it.

Keep fighting these jerks.

fasenfest said...

So I'm wondering. How did the sale of Natures to GNC, from GNC to Wild Oats and then, Wild Oats to Whole Foods muddy up the waters? Is there some legal and sticky line of reason due to these transactions?

I understood that when the GNC (General Nutrition Centers a corporation who kept the name Natures) sold to Wild Oats, the staff at Natures (many who stayed on) became unhappy with changing policies at Wild Oat so decided to start New Seasons.

As I understood, Natures sold to GNC in the first place so they could expand in an effort to get market share before Whole Foods came to Portland.

So I suppose I am wondering how the workings of all this buying and selling and market sharing mentality is stinging everyone involved. Is this just the annoying reality of doing big business anywhere? Is Whole Foods just a little more murky and deceptive then most but still playing the game as the rules inevitably allow?

I hate that New Seasons is in the frying pan now but I wonder if it is any different then all the little book stores, record shops, coffee shops and on and on that must constantly grow and grow or else they perish. In the end it seems it is the general assumption of endless growth and not who is the one growing that must be considered. Still, it would be a very sad thing if New Seasons went by the sword.

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that by basing its defense in part on gathering information from third parties, Whole Foods is using the FTC action as an excuse to screw with its competitors. At the very least, this shifts to their competition much of the burden and expense of gathering market data that WF should really be solely responsible for gathering -- through consultants or otherwise. At worst, it allows WF an opportunity for valuable glimpses into the sensitive marketing plans of its competitors. I hope the FTC does not legitimize WF's anticompetitive behavior by granting the subpoenas.

Anonymous said...

I'm an employee of W.F.
There are some sweet people in the company and the company does pay well and give some insurance.
Nevertheless, this subpoena deal does not go along with the public face.


Please, people, remember, Whole Foods is a company, not a spiritual haven.

Anonymous said...

I love to see hippies getting their dreads in a knot. These are exciting times.

Anonymous said...

well WF friend, therein lies the difference. New Seasons is a spiritual haven. (I work THERE.)

Anonymous said...

This is the second time I've hated Whole Foods. The first time in New Orleans, 2004 - 2005, they shut down their own tiny neighborhood store which was the highest earning store per square foot and was located bicycle distance from the French Quarter, because they wanted people to go out to the suburbs to the new mega WF.

I got over that hatred and up until now, I pretty much split my shopping between New Seasons and WF depending on what I needed. I'm not going to shop at WF again.

Nik Riviera said...

Im not even in the US (down here in little ol' new zeeland), but just thought i'd chime in to add my support. Keep fighting the good fight for the little guys and i know collectively we'll keep coming. Best of luck!

Kay Plumb said...

So sorry to hear this, Brian & company! I'll spread the word up here in the NW hills.

Anonymous said...

I'm the W.F. employee.
That's cool if New Seasons is a spiritual Haven. I'm saying W.F. is a company and nothing more.
I did not used to shop at W.F. I needed a job and the little health food store I shopped at was not hiring. W.F. was.
That's all.
Obviously it is not fair for me to talk bad about the people that I work for behind there back.
Let's just say I'm learning a lot and the people that believe Whole Foods is not a business need to quit fooling themselves.

NSM Employee said...

New Seasons Market is a job, a company, a Spiritual Haven, and most of all we're a family! I find it very encouraging for us NSM shoppers and employees that Brian is willing to do jail time for his NSM family if that's what it takes to keep what we have.

Unlike our W.F. friend here we don't talk bad about the people we work for, we support the decisions they make! Lets continue to do so!!

Anonymous said...

W.F. employee again.
I understand.
For me, it's not easy to come to grips with the reality of the situation.
I do appreciate that w.F. was there for me when I needed employment.
I'm not a back-stabber. That is why when the time is right, when I am clear enough on it all, I will speak my mind, in private, to upper management there---not here.
Meanwhile I certainly encourage everyone to follow their heart. I am not for the subpoena, for what it is worth.

Anonymous said...

We love New Seasons, and the Division store makes our neighborhood a true community. It represents everything we love about Portland. Brian, I think it would be a great idea to get the Wall Street Journal to do a story on this. Anyone have a press connection that could drum up some interest?

Suzanne

Anonymous said...

This makes me very, very sad to be a supervisor for WFM...2.5 years now... Amazing pay, awesome benefits...but how much longer can my morals stay on the back burner for a job...Thanks for F*ing us over John Mackey.

npulone said...

Wow, well this is sure backfiring for WFs isn't it??? Now that we know we can do what consumers can do. Tell them they are unethical (jeesh who would hand them confidential data like that?) and spread the word. Good luck to the New Seasons team.

Anonymous said...

I heard that they want to open up the Wild Oats stores again. Wouldn't that be great?

Incredulous said...

NSE Employee writes:
"Unlike our W.F. friend here we don't talk bad about the people we work for, we support the decisions they make! Lets continue to do so!!"

But the blog disclaimer reads:
"These thoughts don't necessarily represent the opinion of everyone associated with New Seasons Market and as a matter of fact we don't always agree with each other. - Lisa and Brian"

Which do you think is more accurate?

I'm as willing as the next person to suspend disbelief and delude myself into thinking that everyone I work with thinks I'm wonderful and that they capitulate, but you're insane if you actually think that 100% of your co-workers are incapable of bad mouthing each other (not necessarily you, since you're Jesus Christ in a blue apron).

New Seasons is probably just as bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) as Whole Foods, or any other business, when it comes to infighting and disagreements. They may differ in degree, but come on! Sure, it's a goal to be supportive and positive. Any sane individual would feel that way. Do you think any business encourages infighting and idiotic behavior?

I think New Seasons is a great store, and I get a sense that they treat their employees well. I also know that their employees are human beings and subject to all the faults and shortcomings that come with the title. Don't get used to the view high atop that horse. It's a long way down.

biggestfan said...

Brian- Thank you for sharing this tragedy of news. No words to express how the twisted reality that a predator such as WF can file a request that forces your challenge to exist based on having to pay so much $ to defend yourself. I feel so strongly the frustration that our legal system setup allows for someone like WF to try and financially bury you from legal costs alone, regardless of the content of the legal filing. Suggestion: Perhaps you can shine a spotlight on this ordeal by posting the facts of this case along with the status as it evolves in your stores on the post it board AND organize fund-raising events for your legal defense? You always have post its from us to you about what you can do better along with fundraising !lunches or donations for various charitable causes. Maybe we, your consumer base, can help you in this time of need to help fight this monster as we all can benefit. I am not rich by any means, but would happily support any and all of your fundraising events to give back to you what you have given all of us, a fabulous place to buy safe, good food and improve our quality of life! Pls consider this option so that anyone who would like to help you, can do so. Like everyone mentioned, love your stores, never shop at WF and never will now-forever. Good Luck Brian, we are cheering for you.
BiggestFan

Mark and Family said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Since you're answering comments about the Arbor Lodge store, I want to add my 2 cents. That store has an awful meat and deli department. I shop there every week, but I take my business to WF when I want any meat or deli foods. When it first opened, the workers were all terrible - forgetting to bag my mushrooms, being rude, and acting stoned most of the time. The meat department people really don't seem to know what their doing, and I get much better advice on cooking and preparing meats from WF.

In the deli, I prefer WF since they post ALL of the ingredients on everything. When you are trying to avoid hydrolyzed protein or free glutamate, you need to be able to read the ingredients. I have tried asking the Arbor Lodge people what is in some of their stuff, but they never know details. I once ordered a tamale, and it was the most awful tamale I have ever eaten. I have never had that experience at WF.

So yeah, as much as I hate the corporate BS of WF, I will continue to go there over New Seasons for my meat and deli fare. To compete, you have to shape up foodwise.

Anonymous said...

whole foods might as well be starbucks... a place for image conscious boomers

blah

Kristi said...

Call company headquarters if you want to make your voice heard. JAM their phone lines. I'm not sure if I can post the phone number here but it is easily available on their website:http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/index.php

I live in Maine and have never even seen a Whole Foods Market and hope to never see one. I am all for mom & pop shops and farmer's markets.
I will be calling to let them know to never shop the option to build in my area. I won't be shopping there and I will be the first person to protest the construction. I am all for them being humanitarians to foreign countries who are impoverished and all that stuff but not at the expense of taking away the small business here at home.
Walmart, Microsoft, Whole Foods, Starbucks....banned banned banned banned. MOM & POP all the way!!
LOCAL business with LOCAL manufacturing with LOCAL owners is the way to climb out of this recession. Support your neighbors before you support someone who's headquarters isn't even in your state!!! (or maybe even COUNTRY!)

Call them. COMPLAIN.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kristi.

Stop spending money at WF and let them know WHY.

All businesses should be concerned about a legal precedent being established here. No business should be forced to reveal proprietary info just because a competitor can sue them for it.

[No wonder their food is so expensive. It's the legal bills.]

Joan

Robin said...

I just wrote an email to Whole Foods. I cannot believe this unethical behavior. Ever since moving to New Seasons last year, I've been a loyal fan (and weekly shopper) of your markets. *Thank you* for walking the walk, and sticking to your true values. It shines through your stores, your employers, and the choices your company makes. Thank you.
Robin

NChenier said...

Another vegetarian who is re-thinking the trip to WF.

The precedent for the "leadership team" to attempt to read/use competitors' confidential information inspires no confidence in the WF representative's assurance that the information would remain safely confidential *this time*.

Sir Mildred Pierce said...

"(and running up whopping legal bills in the process)"

And that's why you've lost already. Even if you don't have to hand over the documents, they've still succeded in one facet of their "Microsoft" strategy, forcing you to throw away good money that ought to be spent on the business.

Anonymous said...

I am another WFM TM. I have kept from commenting because I find it a very difficult situation all around and no matter what is said here our company will be looked at as some big tyrant and who could blame those that don't see what it's like on the inside.

I appreciate some of the kind words that have been said on this blog about our company regarding our Whole Planet Foundation and their microloans to help end poverty in 3rd world countries as well as the larger green initiatives that the company as a whole has carried out and continues to improve upon. I know that the comments that have been quoted here about John Mackey saying that we would be the Microsoft of the natural foods industry were taken out of context. While I don't deny that the man is a fierce competitor he is equally passionate, caring and truly wants what is best for our planet, not just our company. Many people don't know that a couple of years ago he decided to just take $1 a year as compensation because he felt he had made enough at that point and could live on what he had amassed. additionally we all get stock option grants every year, he alotted his to go to the Whole Planet Foundation. How many CEO's out there can say the same?

I could go on and on about the great thing about our company, benefits, fellow team members, the feeling that you're making a difference by working toward a larger common goal, etc. but the one thing I want to leave you all to think about is this.....

How many millions of TAXPAYER dollars are being wasted on this freaking circus of a case. That's YOUR money. while many people are losing their homes to forclosure, lost their jobs to the ecomony and are even commiting suicide because they don't see another way out. the FTC is making a mockery of our judicial system and reaking havoc on us and our smaller competitors by forcing this issue.

Wal mart sells more organic than we do in just their milk category. So did we really eliminate the competition by buying Wild Oats, hell no. this is a sham. and everyone is suffering for it.

We are a great company and what makes us strong is the sum of our parts.

We are a great nation and what makes us strong is the same thing. Instead of finger pointing, let's focus our efforts, anger, resentment at the FTC and write your congressman.

Stop this stupid legal charade.

Peace.

Anonymous said...

WF Employee here.
Those things are true to some extent, but I have found the Team thing somewhat of a charade and there are many reasons a company might give some money to charity. The oil company's do that too.
Unless you see all the facts you aren't seeing it all, but if WF is subpoenaing this smaller store, lets not pretend that the FTC is subpoenaing this smaller store.

Anonymous said...

Another WFM team member again-

Well I'd say that maybe if the team thing isn't relevant to you it may be for a variety of reasons, but it doesn't mean it's a charade, just your opinion. I've worked with the company for many years in different places, overall it's been a great experience.

No one is pretending that the outside counsel for WFM isn't requesting the documents. But it is being done at the behest of the FTC. look at the entire subpeona, not just the parts that are posted here. Brian only posted the ones that made his case, but in the first two parts you can see the stipulations.

Look, WFM has a great mission and marketing strategy. We don't need to go around sneaking a peek at some other companies internal documents. Although I bet Mackey and team wish they had done more research into that with Wild Oats, they may not have made the purchase.

My point is that to subpeona these types of records is a common practice in Anti-trust type of cases. as said above by that Paige lady, over 96 people got the same subpeona. Nobody else is crying. I understand the financial ramifacations on a smaller chain, but as some responder said above, just stick to your guns, don't do it and yes, risk going to jail, but seeing the kind of support they have hear, I'm sure you could make quite a good uproar if you played the PR card right.

peace

adam_mertz said...

Received a link to this via a friends blog. As of today I'm no longer shopping at Whole Foods...and I posted a link to this blog on my Facebook page urging my friends to do the same. New Seasons, I think you could start a bit of a groundswell here for others to use social media the same way.
Here's why:
Me and my 100 FB friends = -100 for WF and +100 for New Seasons. Now multiply that if just 100 more people in Portland reached out to their network of 100 friends each. Then it's -10,000 for WF and +10,000 for New Seasons.
Cheers and good luck!

Anonymous said...

A way to help....Would you consider a "donate a dollar" box at each checkout for your legal fees? Again, this is an extenuating circumstance regarding predatory intentions by WF- As i go thru your checkstands regularly, i would like the option to offer a dollar if i choose instead of just for Loaves and FIshes and Meals on Wheels etc.. i think they are fantastic programs in which i will continue to support as well, but would like a way to help you if possible. Imagine how much you could receive to fight with if you got a dollar from every other shopper in your store? Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

WF TM said the charade thing.
I too have worked more than 1 location and am not a new employee.
I have worked with some great people and I used to believe in the team thing, but I came to find it was hierarchy plain and simple. Why not just call it that.
The company is decent to their employees, but the individual stores vary greatly depending on who the Store Team Leader is.
No matter what anyone else does or does not do, the question is is it right for Whole Foods to present this subpoena to this other company.
Is it something WF would put on a sign and set it at the entrance?

Anonymous said...

To "Peace" and a few others...
Regardless of the stipulations of the WFM Subpeona, WFM made a choice to act as a predator specifically to NS and no one else. You and i could choose to subpeona someone, extort, threaten to sue or just be a predator to anyone in the attempt to force them to pay huge legal bills to defend something...frivilous or not. About your mention of common practice of subpeonas and "no one else crying" ( how would you know that anyway?) and your experience working there are all irrelevent to the choice WF is making. WF chooses to create and pursue a case in hopes of burying NS. It is the intent of WFM management to instruct lawyers to seek this info via the FTC that is the real premise here. It is predatory and of ill, malice intent in which WFM chooses to operate. Stand up for something right because as stated earlier, we all could act this way and make the same choices to bury someone else in an attempt to gain a financial leg. What a crappy world it would be if we chose to act as WFM. For all of the kudos you throw at WFM for what they do well, can't they just then continue and leave NS alone?

David said...

A friend of mine posted this blog entry to his Facebook page today. And although some people were able to click on the link and view this page, by the time I got to it, Facebook was intercepting the outbound link and redirecting to a page with this warning displayed:

"The following website has been identified as malicious:

(URL Removed)

"The link you have clicked has been identified by Facebook as a malicious web site. For the safety and privacy of your Facebook account, we strongly suggest you avoid visiting this address."

I find that disturbing. One definitely has to wonder what affiliations Facebook and WF may have.

The Bionic Belly said...

Especially disturbing since Facebook *is* a malicious website. That place is so packed full of viruses, it seems odd that they'd single out any one outside site.

Anonymous said...

::sigh::
I miss Wild Oats. Keep fighting the good fight, New Seasons! And please please please open a location in West Vancouver!

Softly Dreaming said...

Sounds like a clear case of using the court system and their own bad behavior to gain business intelligence.

Hang on there and I would be more than happy to smuggle in the M&Ms...

Anonymous said...

Those court systems are such patsies for "Big Grocery." It's amazing how easily they can be manipulated! All you have to do is convince the FTC to breathe hard down your neck, and the door is opened for you to run amok.

Really?

motorbikematt said...

Fight!

This is absurd. Open a store in Florida, and I will be your customer.

Setup a legal defense fund, and you will have my donation.

This is a frustrating abuse of the legal system. Fight on!

NewArms said...

Unbelievable!! i never cared for Whole Foods, with their "organic toys" for $44 (made in China) and their snarky employees, but now it has been cemented: I shall add WF to my shit list, right next to Walmart.
Haven't shopped there in 10 years..

My girlfriend and I take pains and pay more to shop locally (Oregon locally at least, e.g. farmer's markets) and I would like these wankers lose and go back to TX.
I was sad to see Wild Oats go.

Let us know what we can do to help.

Anti FTC said...

This is INSANE. I actually used to like New Seasons - but honestly this feels like a cheap shot on WF and not the other way around. It is simply playing off the irrational emotions of the local/mom&pop/farmers market/Pollan/Whole Paycheck/etc/etc/etc types who just love to hate Whole Foods and really don't even know why. I can't tell who is more at fault here - NS leadership for taking a cheap shot, or those of you who are spreading this around like it was your life's purpose. Honestly. When I heard about this - I didn't expect to waste this much of my life reading all of your sniveling, people. Business is brutal - GET OVER IT!!!!

WF, like EVERY other business does things that not everyone is going to like. I am sure NS has past actions that no one is proud of and yet the world goes on. I think both NS and WF have much to be proud of, but at the end of the day, look at what happens here -- products are sold -- at a profit. This has to keep happening for both businesses to continue and any business, no matter how self-righteous will do what it has to for survival.

I agree with many other rational commenters on this thread - the FTC is the real root of the problem here. They are quite simply - working as hard as they can to move the world in reverse and it makes me sad as an American.

As for this issue and NS leadership...step up, handle your business and leave the cheap shots out of it. You say you want to handle it in the marketplace but that isn't what you are doing. You could have just as easily released a press release stating why the FTC has posted something on their site and continued doing a good job as a retailer. You all are smart enough to know what you would get when letting it loose into the highly cynical blogosphere. While I commend your PR savvy - it was a cheap shot on a competitor that is more common then you would like to admit. Both companies are trying to do the same thing in the world when it comes right down to it...help people enjoy better food choices...so why go this route?

Also - it is really important here to realize that WFM isn't as big as many of your are making it out to be. WFM 270 stores...Safeway 1743 stores, SuperValu 2505, TRADER JOES 312!!!! Give me a break.

And finally - please stop with the Whole Paycheck thing. All of you. It is so annoying and ridiculous. If you can't control yourself when you are in a WF because they are god merchandisers and you wind up with a $30 hunk of imported cheese, that is your own fault. $1.99 organic peanut butter is everywhere folks - like it or not. And you know what? New Seasons is carrying the exact same jar.

I am all for freedom of choice and I think each of us has a right and RESPONSIBILITY to support what we believe in with our dollars. That said - I think this attack on WF was a bit below the belt and it makes me question the direction and leadership of NS.

Btw - I would say the exact same thing if this has been a WF blog against NS.

Anonymous said...

First of all I suspect all this blame FTC stuff is coming from someone in the WF company.
Second of all the prices are high. Produce costs double what it costs down the road at a Farmer's Market where I live. The same produce. Same stickers.
Peanut Butter. The WF here sells grind it yourself inorganic for $2.99 a pound. No organic self grind available.
Third of all, I know of one WF employee that has allready brought this to his leaderships attention and does not like it.
WF has done some good stuff.
Lets all be fair. The issue is simple--Is it right for WF to subpoena this other store?

Anonymous said...

Um...legally, they have the right to request those documents. New Seasons has filed documentation as to why they believe they shouldn't. A judge will determine if New Seasons will be required to produce documents. It's really quite simple.

The subpoena, no matter how crazy or silly, is legal. It's a REQUEST for documents. If the court decides that the request is invalid, for whatever reason, then so be it, but the act of asking for the information in the process of building a case is routine. It's called DISCOVERY. Both Whole Foods and the FTC build their cases, each sharing what the other has "discovered" in the case, so that when they are hearing the case in court, there are no "surprises" or smoking guns pulled out at the last moment (a la Matlock).

New Seasons, not being a party to the case, is not trying to build any sort of case against Whole Foods, so (lawyers out there, correct me if I'm wrong), there's no reason for them to be requesting information from Whole Foods. So enough already with the "just ask them for the same information in return" comments.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of people worked up about this that don't understand the basic premises of the subpoena. (B-b-b-b-but....Mark is going to jail!)

Give me a break. New Seasons brings this strife on themselves for refusing to comply with a lawful and legal subpoena. Someone call the Whambulance.

Set up donation boxes for their "legal defense fund?" Are you high? How about setting up boxes for them to learn to actually read the legal documents that they are served with before bitching about something they don't comprehend on a blog fund.

I would give them a buck for that.

Mackey Watch said...

Sounds like John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is posting anonymously again. Hey, John, come clean. Don't you have anything better to do on Saturday afternoon - like run a company?

Watch This said...

Wow. You're funny.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you Brian Rohter and the New Seasons PR machine and your lack of integrity. You are using classic PR tactics to capitalize on a bad situation. By manipulating facts and using inflammatory innuendo to paint you as a “hometown hero” victim and Whole Foods as a foreign predator, you are attempting to hurt and take business from Whole Foods. It is definitely a bummer situation and I’m sure you are pissed off about being caught up in the case, and I feel bad for you, but your response is really gross.
It is obvious to even this novice that Whole Foods has no choice but to subpoena your information, and of course their defense lawyers have to review it - they are defending a case. You are not the first organization to have records requested of it in a monopoly case, and the FTC has rules about who sees what. I'm betting they didn't give Whole Foods carte blanche - so quit trying to call foul on Whole Foods when it is YOU who are practicing predatory practice - group misinformation and rabble-rousing based on omissions, manipulated information and flat out lies.
Based on the way you are behaving in this situation, Brian, I’m guessing that if the FTC took a magnifying glass to your email chain for the past umpteen years, there would be a whole lot more comments that a savvy PR team could use against you regarding your business practices than “we want to crush the competition.” You too can be painted as Big Brother by anybody smaller than you. You too can have your record laid out with omission of all your significant contributions, and a spotlight on only your bad behavior.
As for all you ninnies who buy into and spread this kind of crap without reviewing the facts, PLEASE - watch what you are spewing - Whole Foods is made up of PEOPLE - many of them your neighbors. They work hard to do exactly what New Seasons people do - bring good products to consumers. I hope that you can review the facts and give both Whole Foods, as well as New Seasons, the credit, and your business, they deserve for all the good they do in the local community and around the world.
And for the record – I am not a Whole Foods employee, but I do have friends who work for both Whole Foods and New Seasons. And to all those people – thanks for all your efforts – the world is a better place for it.

Saiyah said...

Maybe one the WF TM can explain to me how it is the WF is a "certified organic grocer" when not everything in your store is organic and more specifically your 365 brand isn't either. The company promotes itself as maintaining strict organic and pure (whatever that means these days) standards for all of your bodycare yet carry brands that don't meet that requirement. Your 365 line is hardly organic and pure. Soy and canola oil, non-organic items and carcinogenic ingredients as well. I don't understand how WF can represent itself in that manner.

You also charge companies $25 for the priviledge of doing a demo in your stores. I know many reps and companies that can't afford the additional expense or have stopped based on principle - they are there to sell products for you afterall.

I simply feel WF misrepresents itself and just jumping on a market that's exploded in the past 8 years.

BTW, NS supports hundreds (I'm guesstimating) of local, non-profits to assist those of us here, in Portland.

NS said...

Yeah, um, "anonymous", you're only making WF look worse playing the whole snide reverse-blame game.

Yes, people hold WF to a higher standard than mainstream grocery stores. They position themselves as being socially conscious, environmentally friendly, etc. That's why people are willing to pay more.

When they engage in predatory practices--albeit in the name of just trying to get the "big evil government off our backs"--it calls into question the social responsibility they profess.

You're not helping them any, Mr. someone-spit-in-my-granola-this-morning.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It surprises me to see how easily you people can be manipulated. It is amazing to see how many people are only looking at one side of the spectrum based off a blog done by Brian the CEO of New Seasons who is obviously going to only show the side of the spectrum that supports his company. He praises himself for being a local market, but what you other bloggers don't see is that Whole Foods used to consist of only nine stores at one time too. Yet instead of congratulating Whole Foods for their success in trying to make the world and food market a more sustainable place you try and push them down.

I think that it is important that you bloggers do your research and look at both sides before you bash one bash Whole Foods, and I believe that when you have done your research, you will find that it is not either of these companies that you should be pointing your fingers at. Instead I think that you should be pointing at the FTC for bringing up this ridiculous lawsuit in the first place.

Do you really think that Whole Foods Inc. would voluntarily spend millions and millions of dollars in some stupid lawsuit to try and get New Seasons strategic plans?

I have shopped at both Whole Foods and New Seasons, and to tell you the truth I think that both market and companies have their high and low points. I have watched this lawsuit as much as possible, and to tell you the truth, I believe that Whole Foods has done nothing wrong, and the government is trying to stop what good Whole Foods is trying to do for the planet.

Brian, you look down upon Whole Foods for wanting to wipe out the competition, and yet with your one-sided blog post you, yourself, are trying to wipe out the competition. What you have said in your post is both childish and rude.

I agree with you that John Mackey has done and said come ridiculous things in the past, but you, Brian, have just now with these childish acts have gone down to that level that Mackey was once at.

Whole Foods TM said...

Maybe one the WF TM can explain to me how it is the WF is a "certified organic grocer" when not everything in your store is organic and more specifically your 365 brand isn't either...

Whole Foods does not claim to sell strictly organic products. They sell "natural and organic" products.

All of the products are "natural," meaning no artificial ingredients (color, flavorings), no hydrogenated fats, no GMOs (genetically altered products), no antibiotics, no persistent pesticides (key word: persistent - it doesn't mean no pesticides at all, it just means that the ones allowed do not have lingering effects).

In addition to that, they sell "organic" products. Something labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 75% organic ingredients (water cannot be certified as organic), something labeled "organic" must contain at least 90% organic ingredients. Something labeled "100%"...well you get the picture.

Whole Foods is strict about all the food items when it comes to organics - no commingling of organic/non-organic (also called "conventional") products, no conventional products can be stored above conventional items (in case something drips or leaks), produce Team Members (TMs) carry two sets of knives (one for OG, one for conv.). If somebody returns organic produce (or if they decide at the checkout stand that they don't want it) it doesn't go back out on the shelf (usually goes to the Food Bank). And the list of hoops that we go through in order to maintain organic integrity goes on and on.

Your 365 line is hardly organic and pure. Soy and canola oil, non-organic items and carcinogenic ingredients as well. I don't understand how WF can represent itself in that manner.

The 365 is our "house brand" and doesn't claim to be organic. Again, it's all natural, and there are some products that are organic, but 365 does not imply organic. They're usually the best values and guaranteed natural.

As far as carcinogenics, I can't speak specifically. I know that in Whole Body (bodycare products, etc) there are products that contain come chemicals, but I don't know enough about the department. I know that we're creating new quality standards for our health and body care products to address the issue of certain chemicals (probably the carcinogens you're talking about), but that's all that I know.

You also charge companies $25 for the priviledge of doing a demo in your stores. I know many reps and companies that can't afford the additional expense or have stopped based on principle - they are there to sell products for you afterall.

I totally agree with you on that one. Several TMs have brought that to management, and hopefully we can get that changed. They're doing us a favor, and we need to acknowledge and thank them for that.

I simply feel WF misrepresents itself and just jumping on a market that's exploded in the past 8 years.

Whole Foods didn't invent the natural and organic concept, but they're been around since 1980, well before the 8 year boom you're talking about. They helped to create the Organic Certification. They are part (not all, but part) of the reason stores like New Seasons are around.

Whole Foods TM said...

I was going to put a link to the Whole Foods page that explains organics, but that's a little tacky. Just go to Whole Foods' website, go to "values," then "organic food," and you'll get the full scoop on organic foods.

By the way, I was wrong on my numbers:

"made with organic ingredients"= 70% organic
"organic" = 95% organic
"100% organic"=100% organic, excluding water and salt

Incredulous said...

From the Oregonian, 12/06/08:

Although he's not willing to help Whole Foods through the subpoena process, Rohter said that, ultimately, he doesn't think the merger disrupted the Portland marketplace and feels the FTC's solution would be more harmful.

"If Whole Foods had to sell off those stores, I could imagine that it would be bad for our community as a whole," he said. "That could create all sorts of disruptions for the hundreds of staff people who work in their stores and for their suppliers and landlords.

"As long as we can maintain a level playing field," he said of keeping his business records private, "our community as a whole would be best served by leaving Whole Foods alone."


Thank you for finally taking a stand!

Anonymous said...

Looks like Mr. Rohter is jumping on the "blame the FTC" bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the legality of it.
Is it right for Whole Foods to subpoena New Seasons?
Is it something they are proud of?

Incredulous said...

You're attaching your own intent to Whole Foods' action.

Regarding the FTC getting their way (i.e., Whole Foods losing their case):

"If Whole Foods had to sell off those stores, I could imagine it would be bad for our community as a whole. That could create all sorts of disruptions for the hundreds of staff people who work in their stores and for their suppliers and landlords."

Whole Foods is doing what it feels necessary in order to prevent something bad from happening not only to themselves, but to a much larger group than you are acknowledging. That sounds like something to be proud of.

If Mr. Rohter is unwilling to help his own community against a threat that he himself has identified, then it sounds like he's the one who should be ashamed. Food Front and others are cooperating, in a limited capacity, and New Seasons can either choose to help or hinder. So far they feel that being a hindrance and claiming higher moral ground is more important than helping their community.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the Whole Foods PR Firm has been posting heavily lately.
A lot of smooth talk and mumbo jumbo while WF subpoenas New Seasons.

Incredulous said...

(from a favorite Monty Python sketch:)

I came here for a good argument.
No you didn't; no, you came here for an argument.
An argument isn't just contradiction.
It can be.
No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
No it isn't.
Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.
Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'
Yes it is!
No it isn't!
Yes it is!
Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
(short pause)

No it isn't.
It is.

Clearly you're missing the major points of this argument.

Clearly you're not interested in engaging in anything deeper than knee-jerk reactions, jabs and demonizing.

I came here for an argument.

And no, you didn't.

bhillman said...

Common Whole Foods give New Seasons a break!

ssnyder said...

Whole Foods stop harrasing a Portland local firm and accept the facts.

lucero said...

it's time for big businesses like whole foods to stop bullying independently owned stores like new seasons...the bullying has to stop NOW!

Sue said...

I am past furious-and I don't even live in Oregon. As Barack said, power comes from the bottom up. This is an issue that needs a grassroots army. In all my travels, I have never been to a store that equals New Seasons; it is a local chain that that really believes in service while not losing its business basis. Unite all you people and fight!

allforlocal said...

WF- what are you people thinking? i haven't seen a shred of reason NS should trust you with private information! actions speak louder than words and your recent actions are dishonest and sneaky. Stop bullying our little grocery store!

Jeff Heffereson said...

We have to support our local businesses, Whole Foods should stop this attack on New Seasons Market.

The local community has to get organized and get the message out, GO BRIAN!!!

thomsen said...

brian you're a BADASS CEO!!!! FIGHT them tooth and nail!

Brian said...

Give me a break. Whole Foods is doing classic corporate bullying. This is a waste of time and money.

Me said...

I am with the last commentors. This whole things seems really strange. What is Whole Foods trying to do? How can we help?

Network Administrator said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Network Administrator said...

We appreciate all the input that we've received on this. It's getting confusing to keep track of everyone's comments now that we have three threads going, so we're going to shut down the comments on this one. If you have more you want to say , please share your perspective on the most recent blog post. Thanks.