Some organic farmers contend that Whole Foods is quietly using its formidable marketing skills and its credibility with consumers to convey that conventionally-grown produce is just as good — or even better — than their organically grown products, according to an article in The New York Times. Shoppers can choose from fruits and vegetables carrying the designation of “good,” “better” or “best.”
The longtime suppliers to Whole Foods are complaining that the program called “Responsibly Grown” can grant a farmer who does not meet the stringent requirements for federal organic certification the same rating as an organic farmer, or even a higher one. Conventional growers can receive higher rankings than organic farmers by doing things like establishing a garbage recycling program, relying more on alternative energy sources, eliminating some pesticides and setting aside a portion of fields as a conservation area.
The fact that organic farmers, all of whom played significant roles in determining the federal regulations, are speaking out publicly is yet another indication of how much competition Whole Foods is facing from mainstream grocery chains like Safeway, Walmart and Costco, not to mention farmers’ markets and food cooperatives, which are booming around the country.
Farmers are not the only ones concerned about the impact of competition on Whole Foods. The company’s stock is trading near a 52-week low after falling 14 percent in May, when Whole Foods announced that comparable-store sales were up 3.6 percent, lower than Wall Street anticipated.
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