Saturday, February 13, 2010

Walmart vs. Whole Foods: Who rules the roost on locally grown fresh produce?

Corby Kummer (sounds likes a porn-star moniker, doesn't it?) over at The Atlantic, has penned a fascinating piece titled "The Great Grocery Smackdown." It is a thorough examination of a yuppie-liberal trying to procure fresh locally grown produce via two well established mega-chains, the iconic feel good Whole Foods, and the dreaded corporate titan Walmart. The piece makes for an interesting read because at prima fascia, everyone thinks the answer to this question is a no-brainer, right? Whole Foods dominates, hands down. Well, wrong. Based on the evidence provided by the author, the answer is actually colored by several shades of gray.  Walmart and Whole Foods each have distinct advantages and disadvantages in certain realms of local produce sourcing and quality. By virtue of that simple fact, this turns out as a rather massive victory for the Walmart brand.

The werewolf loves each enterprise for different reasons and holds them both in high esteem. Walmart has revolutionized the retail industry on so many levels that addressing it merits a post unto itself. It has lowered prices for consumers, leveraged its volume to influence CPG manufacturers to make more sustainable packaging and shipment operations that benefit most stakeholders, and become a staple of the American consumption psyche. Sure, it gets accused of cultural and product homogenization, squeezing out mom and pop shops, paying its employees what the market says they are worth, and being evil on account of its massive success. While, some criticism is warranted, most criticism is rooted in typical liberal economic bigotry and ignorance.

Whole Foods has captured the yuppie, bourgeois aspirations and demands for premium foods, exotic spices, diverse offerings that theoretically are all well sourced and organically produced where it counts. The werewolf thinks Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, is one of the finest honchos out there and has done marvelous things with his enterprise. There is an arrogance and entitlement to Whole Foods that it is somehow intrinsically "better" by virture of the aforementioned business value adds. It has earned the pejorative name "Whole Paycheck" in some circles, and whereas Walmart is every-man's store, Whole Foods still maintains a bit of an exclusionary cache to its brand. Plus, one could argue that Whole Foods aggressive acquisition growth strategy is more corporate than Walmarts organic growth approach turning the whole presumptive nature of which company is more in-touch with its base on its head.  Regardless, when times are good, the werewolf is a patron of Whole Foods. 

The moral of the story is that the fierce competition of the American marketplace is forcing American's best and biggest retailers to respond to the needs of consumers in innovative ways. Trends like this are a win-win for just about everybody. The added bonus of rattled rattling the cages of economically ignorant and elitist yuppies is a just a cherry-on-top.

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