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Cheese recall melts distaste for Whole Foods

Cheese recall melts distaste for Whole Foods

My grandmother is mighty particular about where she shops. A store that's earned favor can easily fall into disgrace if, say, they stop stocking her favorite popcorn. As a long-time natural shopper, she's a careful label reader, regular supplement taker and she follows issues like GMOs and natural versus organic closely. Grandma's been around for the evolution of natural products stores from small mom and pops to the mega natural chains that now dominate the scene.

Though she doesn't readily admit it, Whole Foods has become her go-to store—though the relationship is tenuous at best. Grandma does not like that her neighborhood store keeps expanding (too big, too busy), but she does think the prepared foods (specifically the crab cakes) are the best in town.

She makes a pilgrimage once a week to stock up on the essentials: birdseed, chocolate ice cream and produce, but the experience isn't always positive. The biggest source of contention is that she's not always able to find someone to answer her questions.

Grandma goes to Whole Foods because she believes the retailer has done the due diligence to ensure her produce, meat and cheese are of the highest quality. If there were another retailer that she felt delivered the same assurances, her other favorite products and great customer service, she'd switch without hestiation.    

Given her proclivity for finding fault with the mega natural chain, I was positive when she heard about the latest lysteria outbreak, she would have sworn the store off for good. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Whole Food's fault that people have been sickened by cheese the store carries, but Grandma doesn't have time to get bogged down by details. Certainly the scare would have her questioning the quality of everything the retailer sells.

As I suspected, she's been following the news closely. But, contrary to what I anticipated, the outbreak has (lo and behold) renewed her commitment to Whole Foods. "I buy products at the farmers market all the time, and this could easily have happened there or really anywhere," she said. This is true, but it's not like her to take the side of the store she loves to find fault with.

How has Whole Foods remained unscathed in her eyes? The store is harkening back to natural retail's roots by focusing more than ever on customer service and transparency. Per our conversation, here's how. 

Grandma knows best

  • While looking for her favorite ice cream, "Three people came over to ask if I was finding everything I needed. That's NEVER happened before. And they were all so nice."
  • When she wasn't able to find baby spinach, "I was all the way in the prepared foods section, and the guy actually walked me all the way across the store to the produce section and helped me pick a fresh bunch. Then he asked if he could help me find anything else on my list!"
  • At the prepared foods counter, "They kept offering me samples— anything I wanted. Normally, I have to ask."
  • At the cheese counter, "They mentioned that I may have heard about the recall but reassured me that the product was out of the store. Then they asked if I needed help selecting anything and offered me samples."  

The store's reinvigorated commitment to customer service reminded Grandma of the golden days of natural products shopping—where relationships were just as important as the products being sold. I suspect Whole Foods shoppers across the country who accept higher price tags in exchange for the store's promise of higher quality goods are experiencing similar levels of attention. I just wonder: Once the cheese outbreak is old news, will it last? 

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