Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Whole Foods Feeding Frenzy: Vegan Vigilante is back, and he's brought some friends!

Seriously, just how weird can the various schmozzles surrounding organic retailer Whole Foods get?

Dealbreaker's Joe Wiesenthal said it best this morning:
FTC filing tells of 30 Wild Oats closings (Rockey Mountain News)
The Whole Foods/Wild Oats deal has proven itself to be a fiasco shrouded in disaster wrapped in an absurdist farce. First, there was the nonsensical FTC intervention, followed up by word that CEO John Mackey bragged about how the deal would make the market less competitive. Then there was the whole message board affair, which needs no reminder. And now the FTC has "accidentally" (we have our doubts) let slip information on how many Wild Oats stores Whole Foods plans to close should the deal go through. Apparently that part of the document with this information was supposed to be blacked out, but as numerous companies have learned, it's really easy to mess up blacking out part of a document.

In addition, there's the nascent scandal brewing around allegations made by the Vegan Vigilante* that Whole Foods knowingly dodged British Immigration Law while setting up their Kensington flagship store. The whole sordid mess can be read in the comments sections of the relevant posts here.

How much would you pay for all of this? Don't answer yet, because there's more! This morning persons unknown, maybe the Vegan Vigilante, maybe someone else deluged my inbox with more corroboration and invective.

Check this out:

Natural Choices UK: Is Whole Foods Market’s John Mackey up to his old tricks? and both had comments posted on them by a poster identified as rohadeb, the same alias used by John Mackey on Yahoo Finance to denigrate his competitors and boost his own company.
The comment posted on both sites under the alias rohadeb made allegations that senior management in the US with responsibility for the UK Whole Foods Market roll out have instructed US employees to lie to the UK immigration service and thus avoid unnecessary expense for the company. In the comment posted to naturalchoices the manager was actually names as one David Lannon, identified on the Whole Foods Market site as Vice President with responsibilities for the North Atlantic region. The message on newconsumer did not name an individual, saying rather “region president overseeing the London Whole Foods Market”.

Note that Whole Foods has already issued a press release to the UK website Natural Choices spinning the story out:

Official Statement sent to Natural Choices by Whole Foods Market
“Whole Foods Market is a well respected employer throughout the US and now in the UK. It fully complies with all UK and US immigration laws regarding the employment of its Team Members.
We have invited several Team Members to travel to the United Kingdom for varying periods of time to assist us with post-opening activities such as instilling our company culture and sharing best practices and knowledge. These Team Members will assist with the promotion of our quality and merchandising standards in accordance with our brand image. This assistance may consist of demonstrating business practices, techniques and strategies for excellence in retailing the Whole Foods Market way.
The training and support that these Team Members provide will ensure that the new store complies with the Whole Foods Market brand and standards in relation to their relevant department procedures. This training, which is specific to our organisation and to our operations in the US, is not readily available in the UK, as we have no current operations running of a similar scale in the UK.
All expenses related to the trip are fully covered by Whole Foods Market/Fresh & Wild including airfare, lodging and per diem expenses as permitted under UK law. Visiting support Team Members continue to be paid from the United States and they are not in the UK to undertake any productive work. “

You know that once a besieged company starts issuing denials that there does seem to be a there, there.

In the words of the late, great Hunter S Thompson, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Where will this end? Damned if I know, but it looks like Whole Foods is determined to present us with dinner and a show.

*as an aside, I have been in private correspondence with the original Vegan Vigilante, who has put me in touch with the US journalists who are working on the story. Ironically enough, he has chosen "John Mackey" as his pseudonym and freemail email address. Cute.

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