Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Retail Memo: Portland, Oregon-Based New Seasons Market CEO Brian Rohter Responds to Whole Foods Market's Paige Brady

Whole Foods Market, Inc., the FTC and New Seasons Market

Whole Foods' Paige Brady also posted the response to Natural~Specialty Foods Memo's piece on the New Seasons Market Blog, which we quoted and linked to in our piece yesterday.

Below, Brian Rohter (pictured above on the left in the blue shirt in one of the New Seasons Market stores), CEO of Portland, Oregon-based nine-store New Seasons Market responds to the response by Paige Brady of Whole Foods Market, Inc.

Brian Rohter's response: December 2, 2008

Paige Brady from the Whole Foods corporate office has posted here on our blog explaining their perspective on this situation. We appreciate her gumption and are thankful for her kind words about our company and our customers.

Also, Whole Foods just put out a press release, saying most of the same things as Paige and assuring us that we have nothing to fear if we’re forced to turn over all of our private information to them. I have to say that I disagree with their point of view.

Whole Foods says, “ . . . all responses are subject to an FTC-issued protective order. The protective order precludes any of this information from being shared with any WFM employee, including in-house counsel. Only outside counsel and their consultants can see this information.”

Sorry, but they’re leaving quite a bit out of that statement.

Just take a look at the history of Whole Foods actions. Last year, in the first round of this dispute, private information was subpoenaed from a bunch of grocery stores. All of those stores, including us, received the same promises of confidentiality—“only outside counsel will see these records, no employees of Whole Foods will ever see them, etc., etc”.

Then in the middle of that process, Whole Foods went to court to try to get all those same documents and files sent to their corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas so their in house counsel (the same one they’re talking about above that "will never see the private files") could look through them. Whole Foods position was, even though this attorney was an employee of Whole Foods and was on their “Leadership Team”, it was okay for her to see everyone else’s private data because she wasn’t engaged in “competitive decision making”.

Sound unbelievable? You can see for yourself at the FTC website. The link is http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0710114/070620response.pdf You’ll find it on page 3. Why should we believe they won’t try that again?

And those “consultants” that Paige refers to above? Once they’ve looked through our information they’re not going to “unlearn” it. The very nature of their job means they carry things they’ve learned from one job to another. Will they ever work for Whole Foods again?

And that protective order? There’s no real penalty for violating it.

In their press release Whole Foods says, “It is important to understand that no competitor will be disadvantaged by complying with the subpoena . . .”

Sorry again, but that’s incorrect. Aside from the issues we’ve already talked about, our lawyers are telling us that it may cost us between $250,000 and $500,000 to comply with all the requirements of the Whole Foods subpoena. That may not be a huge amount of money to a company the size of Whole Foods, but to us it is a fortune.

So as much as we’d like to just say, “No worries. Let’s all just get along”, in this instance we don’t see how we can do that. Whole Foods has the ability to make this problem go away. We hope they do.
December 02, 2008

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