Will the economic recession convert Whole Foods from a powerhouse into a poorhouse?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether shoppers are still willing to pay a premium for organic (or whether they’ll go out back and join the freegans). As the Big Money notes, “No grocer is more at the mercy of the economy’s whims than Whole Foods. And no grocer is more exposed to long-term harm from what will hopefully be a short-lived recession.” Last week, this “onetime Wall Street darling” (subscription required), as the Wall Street Journal calls it, announced that its profits last quarter dropped by a remarkable 96 percent. Meanwhile, the company is struggling to absorb its new Wild Oats stores while simultaneously fighting the Federal Trade Commission, which is still trying to stop the Wild Oats acquisition: The FTC’s case against Whole Foods is scheduled to go to court in February.

In this economic climate, the company’s biggest problem may be its nickname: Whole Paycheck. That’s why, according to the Journal, this summer “it launched a ‘Whole Deal’ newsletter and Web site filled with tips on saving money at its stores. It also has been offering customers budget-focused store tours.” The Journal doesn’t say if those tour guides have succeeded in keeping a straight face.

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