Friday, August 14, 2009

Where Will They Buy Their Heirloom Tomatoes Now?

Whole Foods has reaped a liberal whirlwind. CEO John Mackey is coming under fire for his op-ed in the WSJ, which criticized Obama's health-care plan. From

The op-ed piece, which begins with a Margaret Thatcher quote, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," has left some Whole Foods loyalists enraged. Many say Mackey was out of line to opine against the liberal base that has made his fortune possible.

Christine Taylor, a 34-year-old New Jersey shopper, vowed never to step foot in another Whole Foods again.

"I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods," Taylor told "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Of course, any Whole Foods customer who is offended by Mackey's opinions is free to boycott the supermarket. But, the intensity of their ire is a bit surprising. I know Chick-fil-A is owned by devout Southern Baptist Christians, yet I still eat there. Why? Because its owner's beliefs is not my concern. I'm paying them for a chicken biscuit, not their position on gay marriage.

It's ludicrous that a CEO should "take care" to align his public political statements with those of his customers. (Should companies poll their customers, so they can discern what the majority believes? I'm sure the disgruntled shoppers from the article would love that.) CEOs are not required to make political statements, and many rightly choose not too. But, if John Mackey wants to make an unpopular political statement, it's his right to do so (at his own risk).

I think what's really going on here is that these "progressive-minded customers" feel betrayed that Whole Foods is actually a business, not some leftist organization. It seems silly that anyone would associate a supermarket with a political ideology in the first place.

It will be interesting to see if this will turn out to be a PR disaster for Makey. What's more important to Whole Foods customers: ideology or organic produce?