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For some analysts, looking at Whole Foods’ dwindling sales numbers and decreased earnings, the solution is obvious: The grocery chain should lower its prices so that consumers consider it more valuable. Whole Foods rejects that notion though, arguing instead that value means far more than prices. And it has several ideas in mind to prove that it is right.

To start, it has introduced a new Responsibly Grown rating program, which identifies all fresh produce and flowers according to their environmental impact. The program is stringent in its demands. When vendors exert minor environmental impacts, they are rated good; those producers that go further, such as minimizing wasteful plastic usage or ensuring conservation areas for bees, earn a ranking of better. The producers identified as the best address a vast range of responsibility initiatives, from working conditions for farmers to conservation efforts to clean energy to renewable resources and so on. For example, one criterion asks farmers how many earthworms live in the soil on their farms.

Woman shopping for produceThis produce-oriented initiative follows Whole Foods’ existing efforts, such as its eco-scale applied to cleaning products and separate programs to determine the sustainability and responsibility associated with animal and fish products. Furthermore, by 2018, it plans to introduce labels that indicate whether any particular food item contains any genetically modified ingredients.

In parallel with these new initiatives, Whole Foods has developed a revised advertising campaign, with a prominent tagline that reminds shoppers that “Values matter.” The commercials emphasize that by shopping at Whole Foods, consumers can be confident that their food has been sourced responsibly and fairly. For example, any beef purchased in the stores has been raised by responsible ranchers who give the cows “room to roam.”

By promoting the idea that “value is inseparable from values,” Whole Foods seeks to remind shoppers of all that it provides, in exchange for a somewhat higher price point. In particular, it promises that they can make their food choices confidently, buoyed by a range of information that Whole Foods will make available to them at all times.

Source: Stephanie Strom, “Whole Foods to Rate Its Produce and Flowers for Environmental Impact,” The New York Times, October 15, 2014; Stuart Elliot, “Whole Foods Asks Shoppers to Consider a Value Proposition,” The New York Times, October 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com

Discussion Question

Is the argument that values are valuable convincing? Why or why not?

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