John's Mackey's out of "right field" op ed piece last week in the Wall Street Journal, which condemned Obama's health care plan, probably surprised Republicans more than the millions of characteristically uber-liberal Whole Foods shoppers.
Why, after carefully building the integrity of the Whole Foods brand as THE exemplary brand in the socially and environmentally conscious world of green business, would you throw it all out for a totally off-brand personal (one might say vain) statement by the man who is supposed to represent everything that the company stands for?
It just doesn't make good business sense.
By some estimation (check out Keith Olbermann) the Whole Foods demographic doesn’t just skew left; it is left -- by a factor of about 10:1 (or more).
Even though the environmental movement and the social justice movement are indeed two individual movements with different points of view, in the mind of the “conscious” consumer (the marketing term for people who shop at Whole Foods) the two movements have not only converged, they are one in the same.
As I just blogged about in my piece “Is Hate Green?” (detailing the challenge facing companies like GE and Wal-Mart who have green missions but still fund radical hate speech) corporations need to take this trend very seriously.
The Internet has allowed consumers to get more and more informed about the rift between what companies SAY and what companies DO. A good marketing campaign can no longer cover up issues like child labor abuses or toxic chemical additives.
Now, a whole host of blogs, web directories, forums, and apps (like The Good Guide) offer the consumer an at-a-glance inventory of a company’s laundry – both dirty and clean.
And as more and more companies adopt CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) plans, progressive consumers are coming to expect, even demand transparency and integrity of the companies they patronize, especially at the upper levels of management.
Now back to Whole Foods, Health Care and the preposterous conspiracy theory, now perpetuated by Mackey, that Obama’s plan is going to somehow turn the U.S (with all its minions of pampered Whole Foods shoppers) into a Lenin-era Soviet republic.
Whether you’re Republican, Libertarian, or Democrat, you still have to agree that many social service industries should continue to be socialized (i.e. funded by the public) – public education, law enforcement, fire departments, highways, Medicare, etc, etc. Public education will not do away with private schools any more than a public health care option will kill private health care.
So why all the hullabaloo? The U.S is the richest country in the world, yet it consistently shows up at the bottom of every list on health care, lagging far behind even relatively poor industrialized nations (like Slovenia).
Clearly our fully privatized medical system is not working. Doctors aren't happy. Patients aren't happy. The uninsured certainly aren't happy, and the cataclysmic doctor bills that many families now face are contributing to a weak economy. So why not let our elected officials do their job and come up with an alternative? That’s what we pay them for.
If you ask me why there is so much controversy it boils down one thing and one thing only – the end of corporate rule in America.
Many corporations – in the financial services (remember the trillion $ bailout?), in the manufacturing sector (remember all those outsourced jobs?), and now in health care -- are furious that they can no longer continue to monopolize their industries at the expense of the American people. And they are spending a lot of money (some estimates say $54 million was spent last week alone in health care PR) to lobby our politicians and confuse the public so that they can continue on in unregulated glory.
But I have news for them. It’s not going to work.
Environmentally and socially conscious consumers have woken up to their power. Ironically, Whole Foods was a big part of that awakening. Consumers came in droves to Whole Foods, paying higher prices for organic and sustainable products, proving a business model that defied conventional business logic.
10 years later, even Safeway has an Organics section. So now that 'conscious consumers' have had the taste of power, I don't think they will be giving it up anytime in the near future.
If you doubt me, just look at Whole Food’s sales numbers.
If you want to learn more about the Whole Foods boycott which is now in full swing (I just popped my head into one and the place was a dead zone!) check out the Facebook group (which just started a couple days ago and already has 10,000 members). There are also several websites like Common Dreams and the Progressive Review now calling for a formal boycott.