Marketing Helps Whole Foods Bring in the Green

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impactnow
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impactnow   3/31/2012 4:42:05 PM
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I think whole foods does a good job of their overall marketing but I also think they should have moved into a value space in the economic downturn. The whole Paycheck perception scares away many buyers. I personally find many items cheaper at whole food than at traditional discount chains especially when buying organic and minimally processed foods. I also think they could do a better job on educating people about their products. If you are a natural food person you will naturally shop there if you know little about natural foods and there benefits you may never step foot in their stores.

Barbara Krafte
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John Barnes
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I certainly have to agree there -- the Wild Oats acquisition could have been a PR/marcom disaster for WF, and instead they emerged from it looking like saviors.

I think we're down to quibbling about definitions; using something you do well to do something new, as it comes up, to me, is innovation.  Perhaps we can agree that companies that do marketing well simply have many more options for how to handle things when new situations come up.

Barbara Krafte
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But the "innovation" you speak of wasn't designed in response to the organizing. It's a cornerstone of the WF ethic and was embedded in the culture when it was founded in 1980. It's similar to the cultures of Starbucks, Container Store, Zappos, and others who view the culture as an inherent component of the brand.

WF however, did leverage it effectively in this case and others when they've needed to appear especially empathetic. The acquisition of Wild Oats is one I can think of offhand when Mackey exploited it to WF's benefit.

 

Barbara Krafte
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
Barbara Krafte   3/31/2012 10:03:45 AM
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Great WF marketing (subset PR) at work.

There's also a difference in strategy/tactics when there's no history of union organization vs. Coors or any other companies/industries dealing with entrenched unions - particularly the teamsters.

That doesn't discount the fact the Coors has never been known for a particularly worker-friendly culture and has a history of being deaf to anything other than their own interests.

 

John Barnes
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
John Barnes   3/30/2012 6:37:50 PM
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Agreed that WF does most of the standard anti-union tactics very effectively, but what they add to it is what I'm calling an innovation; most other companies trying strongly to avoid unionization also do a certain amount of grievance-tracking (e.g. WalMart, which essentially has a "red team" listening and looking for the sort of grievances that unions are organized around, and alleviating them before they become foci of organization -- and in today's anti-union climate, an organizer needs a pretty good focal grievance to have any chance at all).  What WF actually does is to take the "great customer service" part of their appeal and use it to recast legitimate complaints as "people refusing to give our standard of service."  Very few private businesses now unionize without customer support for the workers -- and WF's innovative tactic all but totally destroys that.

John Barnes
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
John Barnes   3/30/2012 6:30:23 PM
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Absolutely right about that, Barbara; the anti-union position is not grafted on to Whole Foods presentation to the market, but is a seamless part of it, and that is certainly one reason why it works well.  (Contrast that with Coors's equally anti-union position stuck into the middle of "we're just regular working guys" presentation in the 1980s; that was a disastrous bit of self-sabotage to the company).

Barbara Krafte
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
Barbara Krafte   3/30/2012 6:08:29 PM
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I'd take issue with the position that people are generally willing to at least hear the union's side. As Mitch said, unions are pretty much held in low regard, much of it brought on - in my view - by their decades-long association with corruption, violence, and excessively paid executives.

WF's "brilliant innovation" as you call it, I think is the current SOP for fighting union organizing - although WF does it with maybe more flair.

 

 

Barbara Krafte
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
Barbara Krafte   3/30/2012 6:03:27 PM
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John - remember WF is Texas-based and tends to be anti-union.

I wouldn't expect there would be too much Mackey wouldn't do to keep them unions out given the santicity of the brand and his pride in WF employee culture. Surely he would see unions as destructive on almost any level. Much of his persuasion is positioned as "marketing."

 

John Barnes
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Re: The Whole Paycheck
John Barnes   3/30/2012 4:18:25 PM
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But in general people are willing to at least hear the union's side, particularly when there's something egregious going on or when it affects service (e.g. when UPS was paying a daily salary contingent on drivers getting all packages delivered that day, and handing large piles of packages to drivers coming in from a shift, creating many hours of unpaid overtime, there was a fair bit of public support for the UPS strike; Teamster and UFW farmworkers have been successful in the campaign against the 12-inch hoe because most people can imagine what their back would feel like after using one all day).  Whole Foods was a classic case ripe for unionization: several of their common practices were one version or another of bait and switch (they have an excellent company health plan but it takes a long time to get on it, and the last 60 days before a worker is eligible are deliberately extra-stringent and firing-oriented; they have zero-tolerance policies about on-break activity that can make it impossible for workers to take care of basic needs on break; etc.)  Normally they'd have been up against the kind of campaign that,e.g., successfully organized Marriott in several states -- making the lot of the people with the grubbiest jobs harsher than it has to be is not good PR, and narrow margins from an alert, progressive  public that can go elsewhere usually means you have to fix your labor problems.  But essentially Whole Foods was able to repaint the unionists  as ungrateful servants instead of as oppressed proletarians.  That was a pretty brilliant innovation.

In the sense, for example, that the invention of the military use of poison gas was a brilliant innovation.

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