Bob Franken

Whole Foods Uproar: Boycott Undercut by the Monopoly Game


There are many who must be asking whether the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was playing with a whole deck when he showed his hand on health care. What could explain a decision to volunteer, when he could have simply stayed out of the fight, that he doesn’t happen to think health care is an “intrinsic right” in this country?

Did anyone tell him that his public opposition to a public option in the Wall Street Journal last week would thoroughly antagonize the millions of liberals who have believed it is their intrinsic right to waste money buying Mackey’s overpriced organic food?

Did he really want to become their new Walmart monster, now that Walmart has caved to the same groups now organizing boycotts of Whole Foods? Did he really not understand that favorably quoting Margaret Thatcher was a bad idea?

So now he has left the left in uproar and sure enough, a boycott is growing, uh, organically. But there’s a little problem. Actually, it’s a big one: There is no true alternative for the nuts-and-twigs crowd. A federal court decision ruled it was not an antitrust violation if Whole Foods gobbled up competitor Wild Oats. And that’s exactly what happened.

All those who need their arugula fix or want exactly the right wines and cheeses for their health care community meetings will have to do some searching for alternative stores, and then some soul searching when they can’t find them.

Up until now, these were people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Safeway or a Piggy Wiggly, even though those chains have perfectly adequate stocks of upscale fruits and vegetables and most of the other fare that has not only defined Whole Foods, but themselves.

It was one thing if Mackey was intensely anti-union and avowedly libertarian. That was OK, as long as he kept the shelves stocked with exotic items with all-natural ingredients. His customers were willing to forget their progressive aversion to monopolies. But now he was messing with the public-option dogma, which is sacred to so many of those who worship at the holy Whole Foods shrine.

He doesn’t need to worry. He has them where he wants them. They have nowhere else to indulge their foodie pretensions. Whole Foods is all they have. Mackey has gobbled up the competition.

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