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More Information is Revealed About the Bid for Whole Foods

As we enter the second week of Jana Partners and its allies acquiring a near 9% stake in the company, a few interesting developments have been revealed. However, a significant flaw in the hedge fund’s strategy remains.

* Amazon Not Buying Whole Foods  Bloomberg reported that Amazon held internal discussions to acquire Whole Foods last fall, and the headlines flying around the Internet made it seem as if there was real interest. I believe there was no real interest.

Whatever internal dialogue they did have must have been perfunctory and a mere formality.

Nothing was reported about any formal discussions taking place between the two companies.

* The lowdown on Mark Bittman  It was revealed (WSJ Paywall) that the notable food writer and cookbook author is being paid $90,000 to act as an advisor to Jana Partners and has purchased $25,000 in Whole Foods stock.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that Mark Bittman showed up at the Whole Foods corporate office in Austin last year and made an unsolicited pitch to consult for the company. Though the company took the meeting, it turned down his offer.

Mark Bittman thinks that Whole Foods has strayed from being an innovator in food retailing, that it needs to strengthen its brand, and that it should sharpen its focus on prepared foods. I agree with all three of these statements.

While Mark Bittman may be able to help upgrade the prepared foods section and possibly improve some aspects of the company’s brand, Jana Partners needs an advocate who embodies the purity of the organic mission in order to lure that core Whole Foods organic consumer back to the store.

Comments that Mark Bittman has made recently demonstrate that he is not that person.

During his keynote address at last year’s Organic Produce Summit in California, I heard him say “organic produce or non-organic produce — it doesn’t really matter, as long as people are eating fruits and vegetables.” Others have reported a slight variation on this.

The fact that he could make such a statement at an Organic Produce Summit was beyond galling. I almost fell off my chair in disbelief when he said this.

What Whole Foods shoppers constantly complain about is how much non-organic produce the store carries. The truth is that organic matters very, very much to the core Whole Foods customer.

Mark Bittman also co-authored an article a few months ago where he called GMO-labeling “parochial”.

There may be no other issue in the organic food movement that is more politically sensitive than GMO-labeling. Mark Bittman is completely out of touch with the views of the organic consumer.

* What Jana Partners is Missing  Where Jana Partners seems to have a gaping hole in its strategy is that it does not truly appreciate the importance of organic food politics.

If Whole Foods were to embrace different views and become more politically engaged, as it relates to organic, it could have an enormous impact in luring shoppers back to its stores. Furthermore, it would cost them very, very little to do so. The ROI would be astronomical and would be much more impactful than any technology upgrade that Jana Partners plans to pursue.

Based on everything that I have read, I don’t think Jana Partners understands this at all. I invite the hedge fund to contact Organic Insider to share its viewpoint when it is ready.


Max Goldberg, Founder

This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
Statesman Journal

Oregon Decides Against "GMO-Free" Zones

By Tracy Loew

We suffered a major setback when Oregon's legislature decided against allowing local governments to create "GMO-free" zones. This sets the stage for even more GMO-contamination.

The Packer

Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University Publish Organic Transition Report

By Kate Walz

Organic certifier Oregon Tilth and Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems have jointly released a report which highlights the challenges and deterrents that growers face when transitioning from conventional to organic fruits and vegetables.

Miami Herald

Disagreement Over the Organic Checkoff Program Continues

By Michael Doyle

Not surprisingly, there is significant disagreement over a checkoff program, which is intended to help promote the organic industry.

Food Navigator

Dannon Faces "All-Natural" Lawsuit Because of GM-Feed

By Elaine Watson

Dannon believes that it should be able to market its products as "all-natural", even if the animals producing the milk are consuming genetically-modified feed. Class action lawyers think otherwise.

Second Course
The Recorder

Juicero Hits Competitor with Wide-Ranging IP Lawsuit

By Scott Graham

I'm not an IP lawyer, but it looks like Juicero has a very, very strong case here. The company is suing Shanghai-based iTaste for patent, design, operation, and slogan infringement.

Supermarket News

Sprouts May Expand to the Northeast and Northwest

By Mark Hamstra

It appears that natural grocer Sprouts Farmers Market may be looking to open locations in the Northeast and Northwest, two regions where it currently does not have a presence.


Legendary Organic Restaurant Nora to Close at the End of June

By Ann Limpert

Whether Nora Pouillon can find a buyer or not for her Washington, D.C. certified organic restaurant, the doors are closing on June 30th. The cost of the real estate, which comes with the restaurant, seems to be the major impediment.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* I have been told by a very trusted and reliable source that something ominous is in the works.

* This person said that the head of a testing laboratory in California has been getting many inquiries about “the best way to target organic” – meaning, what are the tests that we can run on organic food products or organic crops that will discredit or expose the organic industry the most.

* My source believes that something will be revealed within 6 months, which will be accompanied by a very sophisticated PR campaign. Should anything come of this, we will be covering it.

* On Living Maxwell, I interviewed Sean Muldoon, the Chief Ingredient Officer at Papa John’s Pizza, where he discusses the company’s move into organic.

* John Foraker, the President of Annie’s, sent out an update today on the situation with Ron Finley and saving his South Central LA ‘gangsta garden’. An agreement has been reached with the owner of the property, but we are still short approximately $35,000, largely due to GoFundMe fees.

* If you haven’t contributed yet, please consider doing so HERE.

* Food Policy Action has launched a petition urging the USDA to test for glyphosate, the most widely used chemical in the world and the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp. You can sign it HERE.

* Last night, I arrived in Denver and will be attending the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) meeting, which begins tomorrow and goes through Friday.

* Without question, the major issue to be discussed at the NOSB meeting will be hydroponics and other non-soil growing systems. As I have written about in the past, I am very against hydroponics in organic. Nevertheless, I expect advocates for hydroponics in organic to show up in full force.

* I plan on shooting Facebook Live interviews and uploading plenty of Instagram Stories from the meetings. If you’d like to see what is taking place in Denver, please make sure you are following me on both Instagram and Facebook.

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