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SpongeBob Meets John Mackey Squarepants

Posted by: David Kiley on August 29, 2007

Whole Foods, aka “Whole Paycheck,” has been a success for a variety of reasons. The emphasis on organic foods. A terrific produce section. A convenient and well-chosen wine section. The prepared foods, while expensive, are certainly a few steps above what one finds at Kroger or the A&P.

Until now, one of the other draws for the Kiley family has been the absence of a lot of licensed character clutter that we would just as soon not reinforce with our five-year-old son. On a recent shopping trip, though, we found kid’s lunch boxes and plastic plates/cups/bowls with Disney and Nickelodeon characters. Spiderman, Shrek, Mickey Mouse, Dora and Diego, The Backyardigans, Disney Princesses and Sponge Bob. The cereal aisle has been mostly devoid of licensed characters. But even that oasis has been infiltrated by Clifford The Big Red Dog on Cascadian Farms cereal.

The bloom is definitely off the Whole Foods rose with a share price that has tanked in the last year and the revelations that founder and CEO John Mackey was childishly posting anonymous posts about WF and Wild Oats to Internet investor boards. A Judge somewhat surprisingly, greenlighted WF’s acquisition of Wild Oats despite Mackey’s baldfaced writings that he was acquiring the rival chain specifically to better control prices in the markets where they competed.

I doubt that we will much curtail our spending at Whole Foods. Food quality is very important to us, and WF overall has it all over the other supermarkets in our area. Indeed, a second jumbo store is planned for Ann Arbor much closer to our home. But it is sad to see a business and brand move into perhaps a new era of leaving some of the nicer attributes of its stores behind. It was sadder still to have an e-mail to the manager of thr Ann Arbor store, relating our chagrin over all the licensed characters, ignored. WF also touts its responsiveness to customers. Perhaps success really does breed contempt.

Reader Comments


September 4, 2007 7:02 AM

If the products are still the same high quality, and the licensed products aren't the only options available, I can't see any reason to get upset about seeing these items on the shelves except a desire to believe that you're somehow above the people who shop at other stores where these types of products are prevalent. The feeling among customers of being somehow more enlightened and thus more entitled to have all their quirks catered to than customers of other stores is what really degrades Whole Foods as a store and as a concept.

Carly jones

September 6, 2007 9:20 AM

omg my sister is 26 years old and watches Dora the explorer every when it comes on and she eats out of disney and nickolodeon cups and bowls

Jason Coleman

September 14, 2007 10:40 AM

I guess comments that show how Whole Foods doesn't control the advertising of it's vendors (vendors decide what to put on their packaging, not whole foods, if the product meets whole foods standards, it can make it on the shelf, regardless of whether it has a picture of Chester the Cheetah or Paul Newman on the label).

Or was it that I criticized the author directly for his leaps in logic and his honesty within this debate.

Note to eds, publishing this comment won't refute my point, but rather only reinforce it.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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