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WFM—guardian of the pantry or health food vigilante?



January 24, 2014 – Comments (0) | RELATED TICKERS: WFM

When they first opened the Berkeley grocery store a couple of decades ago, I was impressed with their guiding principles. In the past year, however, I am having doubts and have taken them off of my investment watch list.



Selling produce and consumer goods that are better for the user and better for the environment is surely a laudable goal. Buying organic produce is certainly a good start, but is only one piece of a very large puzzle. They also treat their employees with respect rather than exploiting them. Certainly a winning combination worthy of an investor's attention.



My initial enthusiasm was tempered when I tried to shop there for the first time. There is a contemporary joke that it should be named “whole paycheck market”. True: the prices are quite high, even for gourmet food. We are not talking about 10% higher or 35%. A box of cereal or bag of oranges is 2x, 3x, even 4x higher than even a high-end grocery. Still, they are making a handsome profit because people have bought into WFM philosophy, and are willing to pay the higher prices.



Their selection of products are extremely exclusive. There are entire swaths of products you will never find there. In a couple of years, all food containing GMO plants must be so labeled, so they are forcing all their vendors to create and produce expensive, custom labels just for their store. The company I work for is going to do no such thing, but will simply stop selling to WFM. I have a better idea: each store, not to mention their website and promo literature, will produce, at WFM's cost, a simple notice. Tell their customers that virtually all corn, soy, sugar beet, and canola is GMO, and that if it bothers the shopper, then do not buy products containing any of these ingredients. The latest outrage (speaking as an employee of a food producer) is that they will not carry food that comes from agriculture that uses biomass as a fertilizer. Put simply, these are the solids resulting from municipal wastewater treatment plants, and these solids are mostly human poop. This “biomass” is processed and totally safe, and in fact is good for the environment: rather than pumping human poop into rivers and the ocean, it is reused as an agricultural input. This is a good example of the closed loop principle of human use of natural resources.



GMO and municipal biomass bad for the consumer and/or environment? Case not proved. Case dismissed. Are the bars open yet? [for you heathens, this is a reference to a Monty Python skit]. Here at TMF, “buy what you know” is a common refrain. Regarding WFM, I do know, and will not buy.


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