Friday, June 13, 2014

Today's Moment in Corporate Spin

I just read Whole Foods to Chobani: Please Leave on, and was fascinated by the ethics of the blogger. This is what we see, right under the title: "Is it possible to get too successful for Whole Foods? The grocery chain's latest move to stop shelving the Greek yogurt brand begs the question."

Oooh ... boo, hiss. Poor entrepreneurs, oppressed by the pseudo-hippies. But let's look a little further into article than the "tl;dr" crowd would probably go.

"Whole Foods is reportedly dropping Chobani because it wants to make room on its shelves for products from smaller producers that either do not contain genetically-modified organisms or that clearly label ingredients that are genetically-modified. While Chobani markets its yogurt as "Nothing but good," there have been complaints that some of the farmers who sell milk to Chobani give their cows genetically-modified feed."

So, they were selling a product that was inappropriate for their distributor - Whole Foods' focus on organic food is hardly a secret. They've been both praised and mocked for it, for years. While one can have an argument over whether or not the fuss over genetic modification is justified by the facts, one can't really have much of a debate over the merits of selling a product under false pretenses - that is shameful behavior - and when a company has its product sitting on the shelves of a store at which the customers have a reasonable expectation of finding organic goods, false pretenses are exactly what is being seen. So, Chobani was decently embarrassed about the deception, and accepted the loss of business with good grace, right? No, not exactly.

"In a statement released by Chobani, Ulukaya said, 'Though we have very limited distribution within Whole Foods, they have been an important partner of ours over the years,' and added, 'We hope to continue our partnership moving forward.'"

Their continued partnership with the company they either defrauded or practiced fraud through? How could they possibly defend an expectation like that?

"In the past, when asked why Chobani yogurt isn't non-GMO or organic, Ulukaya has generally demurred on two counts: price and community. It's important to him, he has said, that Chobani remain accessible to a mass audience, which he says makes organic ingredients too costly."

News flash: The masses do not go shopping at Whole Foods, or, as somebody I know calls it, "Whole Paycheck." The masses go shopping for food at places like Jewel Foods or Albertson's. Whole Foods is a niche marketer, catering to a particular clientele that has a certain set of priorities as it makes its purchases, priorities to which it is certainly entitled, because these people are spending their own money. This is one reason why fraud is despicable - because by denying people the freedom to make informed choices, it effectively denies people the freedom to make their own choices. How could one possibly defend that? How about, with the help of one of the Internet's many volunteer corporate shills, one of whom we can see writing this

"Chobani is owned and operated by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant and entrepreneur who is credited with turning struggling areas of upstate New York into a veritable yogurt Nirvana."

See! If you're not in favor of defrauding customers who are looking for organic food, then you are in favor of poor farmers losing their farms and going hungry, because as we know, Ulukaya was running his business as a charity. Surely, one wouldn't dream of saying that he's just trying to pocket the profits he makes by selling a cheaply made product at premium prices he can charge because people think his product is something that it isn't, having seen it in a store they associate with organic food, would one? Surely, even if there was something a little dishonest about the marketing, this was just a little white lie of his, the means being justified by the ends, because there was no way that this kind, kind man could keep those poor farmers in business without the help of deception, his selling to Whole Foods being needed to keep Chobani afloat? Oh, the Humanity, now that this has failed! Why children will be dying in the streets of Utica, for sure. The tragedy of it all, the senseless ... what was it that the owner of Chobani said, again?

"In a statement released by Chobani, Ulukaya said, 'Though we have very limited distribution within Whole Foods, ..."

Oh. In other words, he's willing to wage a public relations offensive in order to punish a distributor for no longer carrying a product that they should never have carried in the first place. Did Whole Foods know about the use of GMO foods in the product from the beginning, leaving them complicit in the fraud? I don't know. Read that literally - I'm not even going to guess. But doing the wrong thing in the past would be no reason to refrain from doing the right thing in the future, and when doing the right thing makes one into a target for the kind of disinformation we saw out of that post, a lack of due diligence can become all too understandable, even if it isn't right. People don't like to be attacked by pit bulls, even the two footed kind, and the Internet, to its shame, provides those in abundance, ready to wage war whenever somebody with a little cash in his pocket wants to make a fuss over the fact that he heard the word "no."