Amazon has announced its plan to acquire Whole Foods and the world has mixed feelings. Some insist that this business move is a great leap in the world of organic and natural food choices. Others think it’s a terrible idea. Both sides have compelling arguements, and there’s a lot of information to consider.
As an avid Amazon user (who doesn’t love two day Prime shipping?!) my initial reaction was, “Okay, yeah! This is cool!” But a tiny voice in the back of my head was whispering to me that maybe a giant corporation like Amazon, whose hands are already in just about everything commerce-wise, doesn’t also need to have its hands in the grocery market. To me, Whole Foods has always been the creme-de-la-creme of organic, non-GMO, fair-trade and natural grocery stores. There are tons of articles on the web that somewhat mock Whole Foods for the some of the items on their shelves (i.e. asparagus “infused” water, which was essentially some asparagus in water). Whole Foods has also been dubbed the “whole paycheck” grocery store, with people joking that even for just a few items, you always end up spending $50 or more.
In respects to the complaints people have about Whole Foods, Amazon’s acquisition could be beneficial. It could increase the accessibility of fresh, whole foods to areas of the country that are resource scarce. This to me is a HUGE hurdle to overcome if we want to be able to truly use food as medicine. We’ve got to make it accessible to everyone, and that currently isn’t the case. The merger could also drive down the cost of organic and non-GMO food; a Bloomberg report noted that Amazon intends to shed Whole Food’s elitist image by being competitive with other chains offering organic (Aldi, Walmart, Kroger, etc). The merger could also increase the availability of organic options in other stores; Whole Food’s standards could pressure other companies to raise the bar.
On the flip side, while Whole Foods is known for their high standards, Amazon is known as the place to purchase items at the cheapest price. Amazon also has sellers notorious for selling cheap, low quality goods (Chinese based clothing companies like ChicWish, Romwe, Cupshe, etc). Not only do these companies produce low quality products, they often abuse copyright laws by stealing intellectual property and images from other brands, as well as support the use of child and slave labor and unsafe working conditions. One fear is that the same will become of Whole Foods. Amazon’s acquisition could mean a higher demand for product, which usually means cost cutting and lowering of production standards in order to meet demands. Also, when consumers purchase products at a lower price, whoever produced that item makes a lower wage. This could prove challenging for organic farmers; as the demand for cheaper food rises, they’ll be called upon to produce more and more at a lower and lower cost. With their livelihood depending on the sale of their crops, they’ll have no choice but to acquiesce. We’ve seen this before with Walmart, known for bullying their vendors to move production to overseas factories to drive down the cost of goods.
Only time will tell whether this merger will benefit or harm the organic and natural food industry. But what’s the best option? Choose local whenever you can. Support your local farmers by buying produce at the farmers market. Don’t have a farmer’s market near you? Check out Green Bean Delivery or search for a similar produce delivery service in your area. Green Bean sources produce and grocery items locally and also has it’s own organic farm. Consider joining a produce co-op or purchase a plot at a community garden. Find a local butcher to get your meat from. Can’t find a good butcher? Check out Eat Wild to find more resources near you. Choose to spend a little more to support small business when you can. I like shopping small because when I spend, I know I’m helping someone support their kid in college or their family of five, or pay for medical expenses, or fix their car. I’d rather do that than support a CEO who’s making millions of dollars each year. I also like Thrive Market and Vitacost for bulk dry goods and cooking oils. Our dollars spent count as our “vote,” so make sure you’re voting for what you believe in. Will I continue to use my Amazon Prime account? You bet, but probably not for my groceries.
What are your thoughts on the Amazon-Whole Foods merger? Share below in the comments!