How Whole Foods Market "Primes" Customers to Shop

Attention sheeple ... er, shoppers! You may not know it, but if you've ever entered a Whole Foods Market, you've actually been "primed" to shop.

Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, wrote an interesting article at FastCompany about how the popular market subtly persuades its shoppers to buy things.

Take, for instance, the stylish "chalk" drawn signs:

The prices for the flowers, as for all the fresh fruits and vegetables, are scrawled in chalk on fragments of black slate--a tradition of outdoor European marketplaces. It's as if the farmer pulled up in front of Whole Foods just this morning, unloaded his produce, then hopped back in his flatbed truck to drive back upstate to his country farm. The dashed-off scrawl also suggests the price changes daily, just as it might at a roadside farm stand or local market. But in fact, most of the produce was flown in days ago, its price set at the Whole Foods corporate headquarters in Texas. Not only do the prices stay fixed, but what might look like chalk on the board is actually indelible; the signs have been mass-produced in a factory.

Link (Photo: wfmmetcalf/Flickr)

So this is news?? Why is everyone picking on whole foods?? I love whole foods. I remember "natural stores" from the 70's...most were gross and dirty and had nut moths flying all around them. Finally, someone figured out how to make natural products appealing to mass markets and now we have millions of people buying quality food items that never would have touched them 30 years ago.
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Sure, it may be true that the boards aren't actually chalk. But the signs cannot make someone buy something. If a person doesn't like Buffalo meat, they aren't going to buy it no matter what the price, or how the price is written.

As a man with a master's degree in advertising, I will tell you: advertising isn't really very powerful. It can sway a person to a purchase, butt all in all advertising is ineffective and a HUGE waste of a companies marketing money.
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The chalkboard signs have not been mass-produced in a factory; WFM stores have store artists, sometimes several per store, to make the chalkboard, paper, and other hand-lettered signs. It's very time-consuming.

This article is also wrong about the stacked boxes that are claimed to be made in a factory in China to look stacked. WFM uses custom-printed corrugated cardboard boxes for those stacks, because the boxes the produce arrives in aren't as attractive.

And the ice everywhere? That's so items that need cold temperatures can be displayed in areas other than where refrigerators are located. It gives move display flexibility and allows for "cross-merchandising," which is placing an item with others with which it is often used.

I should know; I spent five years at WFM as a cheesemonger, and every day I set up and iced down a display of containers of fresh mozzarella next to the tomatoes.

This article is crap.
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Flowers are often at the front of the traffic pattern because they're largely an impulse item. The aim is to get them in your cart before you start adding up your total in your head. But WFM is certainly not alone in that among grocery stores.

Bananas are not ripened on the plant. In fact, bananas, unlike most fruits, ripen poorly on the plant. They're picked when green and ripened in controlled atmosphere rooms with ethylene gas (which is naturally produced by ripening fruits) under ideal conditions to deliver the right color at the right time. The color that is more likely to sell is the color that indicates to the consumer that the bananas are slightly *less* ripe and that there will be more days to use the fruit. You can find this scandalous color guide here.

Likewise, the revelation intended to produce disgust that we're all eating year-old apples evidences a lack of understanding of how the produce world works. Apples produce a crop once a year in the late summer or autumn, depending on the variety, and are held in controlled atmosphere to allow them to be sold over time. Our ancestors did this by putting them in a root cellar. It's also likely that you aren't buying a year-old apple, even in mid-summer - global trade has brought us southern hemisphere apples that ripen in the northern hemisphere's late winter and early spring. That's why you might see New Zealand on that little sticker on your apple.

The author clearly knows nothing about the food business. On the other hand, I clearly should have taken my food marketing degree and dozen years in the business and written a book about the IT industry or rocket science.
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I was shopping for some fresh salmon recently and hit the Whole Foods markets before hitting the supermarket. They had the same cuts from the same producers as the Supermarket but the quality was lower and the prices were higher.

Since then I've been comparing produce and the like and found my locally owned supermarkets buy more local produce than the nationally owned WFM. And it's usually cheaper and higher quality to boot.

Even the local Costco has more produce from in state growers than Whole Foods so it's a business model, not the fact that they're owned by out of state offices. Once you look past the words "Natural" and "Organic" that are thrown around there you find it's as corporate and national as Wally World.
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Whole Foods is bogus. It's like the cafe down the street that bandies about buzzwords like, "eat locally, sustainability, carbon footprint," and so forth. Then you see some hipster, dead in the middle of a Minneapolis winter, eating some honeydew melon and sipping some a fine cup of South American coffee. The satire writes itself.
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I don't begrudge Whole Food's marketing strategy. After all, it's rather smart to persuade your buyer to buy from you (isn't that the whole point of the business?)

The shops are very clean and the people are very nice. They also stock a lot of niche items that I can't (easily) get anywhere else.

The only problem is that Whole Foods prices are whole-paycheck. A nice bottle of tea that costs about two bucks at another store can cost five bucks or more at WFM.
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"The only problem is that Whole Foods prices are whole-paycheck."

That's part of the marketing strategy. Gee, the same tea costs more, they must be doing business in a more ethical way.

While it is smart to persuade buyers to buy from you, if this is done through hollow, farcical manipulation rather than more honest means, then I think it's fine to grudge that particular marketing strategy.
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It's not chalk, but it's not permanent. It's closer to a dry erase marker that, while prices are set before hand, can be washed-off and re-drawn when prices get reset. The only thing predetermined on the chalk boards are the prices. Each store has a graphic designer that makes the signs by hand and can choose what they think will work best for the promotion.
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Nope, just a former WFM cheesemonger. There are several other Whole Foodies past and present besides me who posted on the Fast Company article.

And as for John Mackey, I'm clearly not him or I would have worked some libertarianism or anti-union sentiment into my comments. ;)

Anyway, there are ways to shop at WFM and not bust the budget - the 365 private label stuff is an especially good deal. When I was working there, we were cheaper on basic milk and other benchmark goods that customers often know the prices of than our mainstream competition. That was very much on purpose. However, many of the products sold at WFM come from smaller companies, which don't have the economies of scale of the stuff you buy at a conventional supermarket. Often they're made with more expensive ingredients. Things like expeller-pressed oil as compared to hexane-extracted oil, or organic vs. conventional ingredients add up in raw material costs and make the finished product more expensive.

Yes, you can spend a lot of money there if you try, but you can get out of there pretty cheaply if what you mostly buy is whole food ingredients to cook at home. These days, I live in a small town where there is no WFM, and we spend about $100 on groceries a week. When I was shopping at WFM exclusively, we spent about $120 a week. The difference mostly went into organic produce.
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What you ought to know as customers of WFM is that they are hypocritical and do not stand for their organic foods, so "natural" will do. Any biotech GMO foods can be called "natural" since the word means nothing and has no legal obligation at all. We do after all have natural posions and toxins too.

Search for articles titled "Whole Foods Market Caves to Monsanto" for more info.

Also "Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: Whole Foods Market okays GMO coexistence"

I guess it all depends on whather you know the difference between natural junk and pure organics and if you do then you know quality over industry propaganda.
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