Amazon Buying Whole Foods: The Real Cost of Healthy Eating

“Whole Paycheck”. We have all heard the trendy, organic grocery store chain referred to that way; perhaps we have even been the ones uttering that phrase as we exit the store with our ethically sourced coffee, organic eggs, gluten free pasta, and of course, avocados. So, it’s understandable that a great many people rejoiced upon learning that online retail giant Amazon was going to be acquiring the seemingly over-priced supermarket.

But, what does it the acquisition really mean? Not for other grocery stores or being able to have Whole Foods delivered to your home, (which you could already do, if you live in an area in which Instacart exists) what does this mean for the small farmers and migrant farm workers. The very people who are often providing the produce that is being sold at places like Whole Foods.

Orange…Jumpsuits, Not Fruit

Last year, Amazon was listed upon the Top 10 Corporate Criminals by Global Exchange. Among the reasons: poor labor conditions and unjust treatment of workers. At a time in which small farmers are already suffering, being bought out by big corporations, while it’s never been a big secret that migrant farm workers aren’t exactly treated like kings, do we really want a company that is considered a corporate criminal now having such a large piece of the pie in terms of the food that ends up on our dinner tables?

The High Cost of Inexpensive Food

While the acquisition of Whole Foods may cause the supermarket to lower prices, at what cost? Certainly, there are any number of reasons as to why Whole Foods is seemingly more expensive that other grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s or Fairway.

Although, if you happen to live in New York City, Whole Foods may still seem like a bargain after years of the only true grocery stores being places like Dean & DeLuca and Gristedes where you may find yourself paying $8.00 for a cantaloupe.

One of those reasons is that the eating organic and “whole” foods is very much the trend these days, as we become a society increasingly aware of how the food we eat impacts our overall health. As such, we don’t want to be ingesting foods that are full of preservatives, or animal products that come from livestock that have been pumped full of chemicals or somehow mistreated.

And, for good reason…none of the arguments to be had around eating healthy foods are bad. Studies have shown that sugar and cheese have the same effect on our brains as heroin. We should be eating well, we should care about how various produce is sourced, ensuring that it’s not disruptive to the environment while caring about the working conditions of the people sourcing it.

Generally speaking, the cheap produce, the inexpensive eggs, the giant chicken breasts, are not being sourced by an entity that cares too much about your health or corporate social responsibility.

These days, everyone is dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or pescetarian. Everyone is doing Whole 30 or the 21 Day Fix. So, any grocer that sells organic produce, farm-raised eggs, and sugar-free everything, is going to be the go-to place for anyone jumping on the various nutrition trends.

Basic supply and demand: the greater the demand, the more companies can charge for their supply. So, sure…Whole Foods can get away with charging a bit more than some of their competitors, because there is a high demand for what they are selling. But, is that the only reason for their prices?

The simple answer is no. Consumers who want ethically sourced coffee and produce, or all-natural chicken or beef that hasn’t come from mistreated animals, are going to have to be prepared to a bit more for reasons beyond basic business strategy.

Organic and whole foods take longer to grow and produce, because they aren’t being sprayed with various chemicals or having hybrids created. A chicken that isn’t being pumped with growth hormones is going to take longer to grow and mature to the point of being ready to be slaughtered for consumption.

As such, farmers who are committed to ethical treatment of their livestock or growing organic foods end up producing less, meaning that they have to charge more for their goods. Again, pretty basic economics. It’s this basic business model that is also the reason as to why it’s largely small and mid-sized farmers who are even responsible for the organic foods we find at supermarkets…the large corporate farms don’t want to commit to creating less food and not turning as large of a profit.

As we begin to see the prices at Whole Foods lowering, how is this impacting the small and mid-sized farmers from whom they were committed to supporting? (As of last year, Whole Foods bought from 1,400 small to mid-sized farmers in the country.)

In addition to their commitment to buy from smaller farmers, Whole Foods, over 10 years, has provided over $21 million in low-interest loans to small farmers to assist them with growing their operations. Given the reputation of being a corporate criminal that has been bestowed upon Amazon, it is understandable that many suppliers of Whole Foods are concerned about the long-term affects of this acquisition.

The Checkout Lane

We can’t yet be certain what this Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods is going to mean for smaller farmers. Making high-quality, organic, whole foods more accessible is absolutely a good thing, given the issues of social justice that surround food and the various health problems that stem from a poor diet. However, only time will tell if that is Amazon’s end-game, or if the end result is Whole Foods becoming cheaper at the cost of both the quality of their goods and the welfare of those farmers providing that food.