Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Natural Food, Unnatural Prices

Stan Cox of Alternet wrote the above-named article, putting Austin's hometown favorite, Whole Foods Market, to the Wal-Mart test. It would not come as a surprise to anybody who has every shopped at WFM that a basket of similar groceries came out to be significantly more expensive than Wal-Mart. Twice as expensive, as a matter of fact. The hypothetical baskets came to $232 for Wal-Mart, $564 for Whole Foods.

Cox then subjects Whole Foods to the so-called "Wal-Mart Test", referring to a previous article wherein he determines that a typical Wal-Mart worker is unable to afford to shop at Wal-Mart while supporting your average family. Even though Whole Foods is on Fortune's "100 Best" places to work, presumably because they pay better wages and benefits, Cox concludes that a typical Whole Foods employee is also unable to shop at that store.

The underlying pun here is so bad, it is begging to be used. The Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods bout is like comparing apples to oranges. First of all, Whole Foods has never claimed to have low prices. They claim to have high quality, and they deliver that in spades. You can not get organic, locally grown produce at Wal-Mart. Secondly, it is unfair to paint Whole Foods with the low-wage, worker-exploiting brush. Where in the U.S. do grocery clerks and stockers get a sustainable wage? Nowhere. Third, has he ever shopped at Whole Foods? I do, and I see workers doing their shopping in the store all the time.

5 Comments:

Anonymous lee said...

you're right you can't compare wax covered conventional apples with organic local blood oranges.

not only by the virtues of the product but also by the fact that the entire playing field is different.

I saw Paul Rey speak about the LOHAS economy a while back and he was saying how surprisingly the biggest average consumer of LOHAS goods are not the highest earners (say $100-150K slaries) but good earners (Professors... people in the $50-65K salary range) it seems that peopel who aren't earnig fortunes may consider their health a fortune or something and invest in that. So an employee at WFM, who really actually cares about non GMO good organic food, will pay a higher porportion of his or her earnings on food than someone say who earns twice as much but cares very little...

it's still interesting, this walmart test, but I am glad that you see there's more than one way to look at it

5:07 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cost of food as a proportion of salary has been dropping over the years. People pay less for food and more for stuff (cars, electronics, etc) than ever before. WF's requires a sort of reversal to that trend -- pay more for food, which is fundamental to your health and well-being, but you might have to give up something else.

The Wal-Mart phenomena is about making everything cheap so we can have more of it -- more food (to get fatter) and more of everything else.

For me, the issue isn't whether a WF employee can shop at WF. It is whether a Wal-Mart employee -- and all hard-working people -- can have a decent quality of life. If the WF employee has to give up a a nicer car or home to shop there, that is different than a Wal-Mart employee having to choose whether to eat or pay the heating bill in the bitter part of winter.

3:24 PM

 
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