Thursday, August 13, 2009

Whole Foods Fail

I've often argued against anti-corporate regulations and general government interventionism in many contexts on the libertarian theory that corporations hate bad publicity, and if they do something wrong they will usually be punished by the resulting consumer backlash. For example, you don't need laws against tuna company fishing practices which snare a bunch of dolphins, because more often than not, if this is truly something that people don't like, tuna companies following these practices will suffer in the marketplace, and either change their practices or lose market share to companies who don't kill dolphins (and eventually go out of business).

This is only a general rule, of course, and subject to many exceptions in particular contexts. But today we have an especially ironic example of this rule in action. John Mackey, CEO of the grocery chain Whole Foods Market, is apparently somewhat of a libertarian himself. Yesterday he took to the pages of the ultra-right-wing WSJ editorial page to argue vehemently against government involvement in health care.

I think you can see the problem here. Whole Foods caters to hippies, crunchies, and granola types. These are its hard core of support -- its target group of customers. And this demographic is heavily slanted toward liberal (or "progressive") views on various political issues. Such as for example: health care.

The link above will take you to a DailyKos post vilifying (rightly or wrongly) Mr. Mackey for his strident stance against health care reform. The post, in turn, links to the forums section of Whole Foods' website. When I first read the DailyKos item I of course immediately clicked on over to the WF forums to rubberneck at the trainwreck carnage. Sure enough, threads and comments, running roughly 99% against Mackey and WholeFoods, were proliferating at an amazing pace.

So I had my fun, and went on to something else. I clicked back over a while later just to check the comment count, and lo and behold WF's web minions (and, presumably, P.R. staff) had done a massive purge of forum threads and were, even as I watched, engaged in a heroic effort to scrub the new posts and comments as quickly as they were being posted. These new comments had moved from the obvious "Food Politics" section and were now inundating more innocuous sections of the forums, such as "Recipe Swap" and "Gluten-Free Diets".

I only skimmed Mackey's op-ed. I don't know for sure whether his ideas are good or bad. But either way, the irony here is delicious. Mr. Mackey surely believes in the idea that "the market will decide" what's best for everyone -- consumers, corporations, and society alike. I tend to agree. And I have a feeling that the market for organic arugula is going to decide to teach Mr. Mackey a hard-earned lesson about where his whole-grain bread is buttered.

Of course, Mr. Mackey can always hope to pick up some customers from the ranks of folks who agree with his health care views. You know, the "Death Panel" "keep your dirty gubmint hands off my Medicare" crowd. Good luck with all that. That particular demographic is on record as stating that arugula is only consumed by communist muslim illegal aliens, and that organic farming is nothing more than a Satan-inspired conspiracy to force us all into interracial gay marriages and abort our white babies. I'm sure they'll all be lining at your stores any minute now, Mr. Mackey.

[UPDATE] Well, it appears now that the P.R. staff is starting to realize that the delete-ignore-hope it all goes away strategy isn't going to work. They've now created a whole new forum category (Current Events/Health Care). Which is good, I guess, but it didn't stop someone from posting, in the "Recipe Swap" forum, a thread entitled "Recipe for Obviously You Don't Know Your Customers Soup". Heh.


Gleemonex said...

"And I have a feeling that the market for organic arugula is going to decide to teach Mr. Mackey a hard-earned lesson about where his whole-grain bread is buttered."

Deeeeeeelicious! LOVE this post. :-)

Anonymous said...

On the subject of dolphin safe tuna, i found it interesting that according this dude

"1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish."

HHL said...

interesting article. can't say I am surprised -- dolphin safe tuna appears to be one of the (many) issues where emotion overrules reason.

but notice I didn't say consumer opinion would result in good outcomes, just that it would result in popular outcomes! come to think of it, just like the democratic legislative process. heh.

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