whole foods market suppliments bag

Whole Foods Market is adding more than 140 staple UK brands to its offering in a bid to win back shoppers. It’s a decision that could make an already broken food system much worse.

Eighty per cent of supermarket shelves are dominated by just 11 companies – all of which have a primary shareholder concern of financial growth at all costs. Seventy-five per cent of revenues from these 11 companies comes from the sale of ultra-processed convenience junk foods, which have now been linked to over 32 lifestyle-related diseases from cancer to diabetes. 

Over the past 60 years, as these giants have hijacked global food, UK consumers have fallen prey to misinformation and false health claims. Profit-centric brainwashing has led to the devaluing of good quality, natural ingredients that truly benefit people and the planet. Instead, shoppers have grown accustomed to valuing foods based on health claims like ‘low calorie’ and ‘high protein’ despite the accompanying heavy use of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, gums, fillers and more.

Back in the 1970s, an ambitious mission-driven supermarket was born in the US with the following statement at its core: ‘Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet. We’re a purpose-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers.’

That was Whole Foods Market. It represented a bright opportunity to fix this broken food system in three ways: 

  • Enablling emerging healthy and sustainable brands to grow and scale in the hands of conscious consumers
  • Restoring trust for people who wanted get the highest-quality groceries conveniently in one place 
  • Shifting the perception of value in food back towards quality ingredients and away from junk food promotions

The only thing Whole Foods has never been able to do is sell these products at a price point that could include lower-income households – often targeted most by the ultra-processed food giants. Therefore, it kept its offer premium and for those that could afford it.

Since its acquisition by ‘profit over everything’ Amazon back in 2017, it’s clear this original purpose has begun to disintegrate. The most recent announcement represents a rather scary u-turn. Including the likes of Kellogg’s, Mcvitie’s and Tropicana in its range will not just mean a little more revenue on some rather mainstream products – it will further confuse the mass-market health consumer into thinking these brands actually meet the so-called ‘standards of excellence’ originally laid out by Whole Foods .

Kellogg’s is a prime example. Current CEO Gary Pilnick recently took flak for encouraging price-conscious shoppers to have cereal not just for breakfast but for dinner too. These cereals are not just ladened with artificial ingredients, but are often packed with sugar

Just look at the list of ingredients in its recent Chocolate Cornflakes launch: maize, sugar, barley malt extract, oligofructose, fat reduced cocoa powder (5.5%), glucose syrup, cocoa mass, salt, natural flavouring, niacin, iron, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12.

Barley malt extract, oligofructose and glucose syrup are all just hidden names for sugar. They are listed in the top six ingredients, meaning they are among the six highest concentrations in this product. 

Whole Foods Market once gave conscious consumers a chance to find trust again. Despite the very premium price point, it offered an exciting representation of what our food system could be, and the importance of quality in the things we consume. By deciding to now work with giant food companies, it has succumbed to the ‘profit at all costs’ thinking that ruined our food system in the first place.

These giants will soon be offering very attractive promotional spends to profit-hungry Whole Foods shareholders. It will likely only be a matter of time before we start to see another UK supermarket chain choosing profits over people, and junk food promotions over accessible food education.