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For Shame!! An Open Letter to Whole Foods

June 30, 2012

I love Whole Foods!  I absolutely love it!!  If you haven’t been in a Whole Foods I feel for you.  The produce is so fresh, so perfect it seems impossible, doubly so when you realize that they only sell organic food!  The meat is incredible, I can’t even begin to describe it.  The Virginia Ham, the Rib Eyes, the Peppered Roast Beef…  I could go on about the seafood as well… Even better than all of this is the hot food bar.

The thing is though, Whole Foods has a problem.  They are part of the belief that Organic is Healthy.  I am not suggesting here that organic foods may not be healthier than non-organic foods, but that unhealthy foods are still unhealthy even when made from organic ingredients.  This seems obvious to everyone in general, but somehow, you end up in a Whole Foods and suddenly the organic candies at the end caps and the cash register just don’t look so bad.  Their candies scream of their benefits and their ingredients rarely contain any sugar…  just organic evaporated cane juice.

I hate how easily fooled people are by these things and how Whole Foods is happy to present itself as a healthy food store while pushing candy as much as any other store, but that isn’t the reason I am mad at them right now.  This is:

An Open Letter to Whole Foods:

Dear Margaret Wittenberg and Joe Rogoff,

First and foremost I want to commend you on all of the great things that you have done with your stores.  I was recently shopping in my local Whole Foods at Park Royal, a store which I enjoy very much when I happened to run into this end cap:

Worst End Cap Ever

Worst End Cap Ever

This cute little summer beach display looks so harmless.  Full of toys and towels… what kind of cold hearted bastard would have a problem with it you are probably wondering?  Well, the thing is, as I was walking by I noticed the ‘Sharkies’ in the middle of the display.

Yes, right here under the cute octopus backpack:

I remembered having some sharkies in a pack that was given to me once before a running a long endurance event.  They were some sort of energy chew, kind of like a ‘GU’ but in gelatin form.  I actually tried them and found them nearly inedible, so the name stuck out fir ne when I was walking by.  Why in the world would you place a quick, salty energy source in a display of young children’s beach stuff?  Then I noticed the packaging.  These aren’t your ordinary energy replacement chews, these are specifically marketed to children!!!

To my shock and amazement, Whole Foods is actually selling candy to kids under the guise of sport chews!!  For the life of me, I cannot imagine what in the world a kid would be doing with sports chews.   What kind of exercise would  a young child be doing that they would need a large influx of sugar in their system?  I have taken energy gels before when running, but never at a distance less than a 1/2 marathon.  I can’t imagine the distance that a kid would have to run to deplete his or her glycogen stores, but it would have to be substantial.  I wonder, do you have anyone on your staff that would recommend these or find a legitimate need for them?

I don’t imagine that a kid who is playing with an octopus bucket would be up to that kind of distance, do you?  Kids shouldn’t be taking energy gels or gelatins except under the most extreme conditions.  These are not items that parents should be giving to kids at half time of a soccer game for example.  All of the exercise experts know this, you at Whole Foods should know this.

What may be more disturbing than the fact that you are selling energy gels marketed to children, is the fact that these aren’t even energy gels, they are straight candy.

According to

Gels provide a way for your body to take in energy during times of extreme endurance. Many forms of carbohydrate (e.g. glucose) can trigger an insulin production reaction in the body which can result in a feeling of energy loss – this is the mechanism behind the famous ‘two o’clock slump’ experienced after a big lunchtime meal. However, gels are mostly made up of maltodextrin or some other form of carbohydrate which breaks down very easily in the body and does not cause a sugar overload.

In face, GU the leading energy gel manufacturer agrees:

The maltodextrin, which makes up 70-80% of the carbohydrate blend (depending on flavor), takes several minutes longer. Because of this delay, your muscles enjoy a steady stream of energy instead of one gigantic sugar rush and a corresponding crash.

So, true energy supplements contain a high amount of maltodextrin, but not Sharkies for kids, no, they are all kinds of sugar:

Organic Sugar, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic White Grape Juice Concentrate…  All of the first 3 ingredients are all sugar.  We know better than to eat foods that have sugar listed in the first 3 ingredients and this one has all 3!  Although this is dressed up as a ‘Sport Chew’ it is nothing more than candy.

In fact, the salts usually present in sports chews and not surprisingly actually present in the adult version of this candy are even missing.  One of the most important ingredients in an actual sport chew/gel is the electrolytes that replace the electrolytes that your body sweats out.  The problem is, they taste like what they are, salt.  They make the sport gel taste rather unpleasant.  There is no reason to be removing the salts from the chews unless it is a tacit admission that these are a tasty treat, not a sport chew at all.  The thing is, there really is no reason why a child wouldn’t be able to run an endurance race such as a half marathon or a marathon.  After reading the differences in the ingredients for these I am not entirely sure they would be safe for that purpose given that the salt has not been added.

Shame on you Whole Foods!  I am not at all surprised by Sharkies by the way.  What they are doing is terrible, but there are no shortage of unethical companies that are trying to sell to our marketplace.  When you invite them in though, they become your problem.  You are vouching for them.  You have banned Red Listed Seafood and GMO foods because you understand that you have an obligation to the consumer.  This is an obligation that has come from the trust you have asked us to have in you and your products.  A trust I did have until recently.

I love being in a place that loves food and loves the feeling you get when you are around it at it simplest and purest forms.  My children and I were fortunate enough to get a seminar from a local beekeeper who had samples of his local, organic honey, real honey, which is apparently rarer than you would think.  I want to believe that you aren’t just ‘Greenwashing’.  That you believe you are making your consumers healthier.  I don’t expect you to not sell candy.  I don’t even expect you not to put it on end caps and at tills to make more money from our impulse buys (although to be honest with you I am a little disappointed every time I see this).  I do expect you to know candy when you see it and not allow it to be marketed in your store as otherwise and I really expect you not to make cute displays out of it.  If there were any value at all for kids sport chews, there is no world in which they should be marketed to parents of kids as young as the ones who would have been buying those products.  Don’t think that this is a little issue either.  We all know sports drinks are sold to children who believe that drinking them will help them become athletes and all they achieve is to help them become obese.  This is no different, in fact probably worse.

I expect more from you.  A lot more.


Mark Vaughan

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 29, 2014 1:04 pm

    Great post, I totally agree. When our food industry is slowly killing us, we do expect much more from them. Lots in the media about their own brand going down, I have not found time to research yet. YOU?
    I can honestly report that I just analyzed a capsule of their brand name Vit D3…it turns out to be LESS than 1% ‘active’ vit D and 99.95% ‘other’ ingredients (soybean oil, gelatin, vegetable glycerin). I’m sure that is what the informed consumer is NOT expecting. Not the absolute worst chemical additives but blatantly misleading at very least.

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