Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Retail Memo: Whole Foods Market's April Fools Day Web Page Offers Mirth, Pokes Fun At Itself, But Also Good PR Move For Natural Grocer's Image

The April Fools Day spirit has struck the Whole Foods Market Web site today.

The natural grocery chain, which gets its share of ribbing with nick names like "Whole Paycheck," has turned the front page of its Web Site into a humorous self-look at itself in the spirit of April Foods Day, which is today, April 1, 2009.

The Web site home page is full of mirth. You can view the site here.

For example, the mock advertisement pictured at the top of this story leads off the Whole Foods Market April Fools Day Web site home page. As you can see, the natural grocer is offering four varieties of Organic Air under its "365 Everyday Value" store brand. It's not just air packaged in an attractive clear bottle with a spritzer top mind you -- but organic air at that. We don't see the USDA Organic certified seal on the product though, which bothers us a bit.

Good humor is that which comes closest to reality in many cases. That's why we wouldn't be surprised if Whole Foods Market were to put up a display of its "new" organic air item in its stores that sales would probably be fairly decent -- at least for a while.

And since "air" is a 365 day a year essential, offering the organic air under the "365 Everyday" store brand is pure brand marketing genius, of course.

Below its "365 Everyday" store brand organic air advertisement, Whole Foods then gets into the news of the day -- April Fools Day news at Whole Foods.

First up is a brief item about "today's featured local grower at Whole Foods. Here it is: "Featured Local Grower Peter Parker of Tulsa, OK raises Huntsman spiders, often mistaken for deadly Brazilian Wandering Spiders. Whole Foods Market is proud to offer one free spider with every 50-lb. purchase of organic bananas."

A rare spider was recently found in bananas at a Whole Foods Market store. This is a great way to "hang a lantern" on a problem. Poke fun at yourself, using April Fools Day to do so. PR grade=A+

In the spirit of its green retailing philosophy, Whole Foods Market then announces its latest strategic move in the paper v. plastic and reusable carrier bag controversy. That breaking April Fools Day news is this: "An Even Better Bag: Continuing our quest to keep plastic bags out of landfills, we introduce our reusable pet waste bags. Pick up after your pooch with our eco-chic Better Doggie Bag, designed by Cookie Fleck and Whole Foods Market."

Whole Foods pokes fun at its own image in the above "news" item. The grocer eliminated single-use plastic carrier bags from all its stores in April, 2008, on Earth Day. It's also been teased for selling numerous varieties of designer chic reusable carrier tote bags. The item shows Whole Foods can make fun of and laugh at itself. Consumers love this. PR grade=A+.

Whole Foods Market also tosses in some new store breaking news on its April Fools Day homepage. You have to click here to read this breaking news. But we will give you a hint: The store is "green" because it doesn't need refrigerated or frozen food cases to keep perishable products fresh.

The natural grocery chain also incorporates the April Fools Day theme into some of its regular Web site features.

For example, below are today's featured items in Whole Foods' regular "What's Cooking" at the stores feature:

~Deep-Fried Pork Eclairs
~Chianti-Gorgonzola Popsicles
~Indian Amazonian Guatemalan Honduran Balinese Rice

The natural grocer's "Whole Story" Blog also gets the April Fools Day treatment.

Below are the five April Fools Day posts in today's "Whole Story" Blog:

Whole Story Blog

~When milk goes bad: 12 daring recipes
~No such thing as too much salt
~Experts find: eating food curbs hunger
~"Whole Deal" splits into 500 tiny deals
~Money-saving tip: bathtub wine

We actually think Whole Foods' could be on to something with the money-saving tip: bathtub wine post. After all, it taps into a number of hot-button consumer issues.

First, consumers are attempting to save money with every purchase in this severe recession, including wine. That hits the frugal hot button.

Another popular trend right now is "do it yourself" (DIY). Stomping grapes in the bathtub fits the DIY bill extremely well. Ties in with frugality in the recession as well.

Making bathtub wine at home is extremely sustainable production. You can't get much more natural-sustainable than bare feet, after all.

Combine all these factors with making sure the grapes used are organic and locally-produced, and Whole Foods just might want to make this do it yourself wine production idea a regular feature in its stores. We suspect it also might tap into the small but significant foot fetish consumer segment out there among America's natural products consumer base.

Whole Foods concludes its April Fools Day 2009 special feature page with... what else, a featured video. The title of the featured video: Change a flat tire the organic way with our step-by-step tutorial.

Some thoughts - and breaking news

Kudos to Whole Foods Market for stepping outside the box and offering up a bit of merchandising mirth for April Fools Day. Double kudos for poking fun at itself and some of its practices in the feature as well.

Consumers certainly need as much humor as we can get at present. And showing it has a sense of humor, including of the self-deprecating variety, is a good image booster for Whole Foods Market, which often comes across as...well, stuffy and a bit elitist.

Cheers to the creative minds who came up with the items featured in today's April Fools Day Whole Foods Market Web site extravaganza.

But all kidding aside...we have a funny feeling that the organic air item would probably be a pretty solid seller if it were to be marketed in the Whole Foods stores.

In fact, we were going to hold this back for a separate, breaking news story in the Blog, but we'll reported it here and now because of the ironic tie-in.

So here it is: According to our sources, Safeway Stores, Inc. is preparing to introduce what CEO Steve Burd is calling another revolutionary new product line under its popular, $500 million a year grossing "O' Organics" organic food and grocery product line.

Safeway has kept the new line, which Burd says will show Safeway to be the leading retail private label organics brand marketer in the U.S., under wraps in a secret campaign borrowed from the CIA.

However, Natural~Specialty Foods Memo has learned about the new "O' Organics" brand line from the Safeway Stores, Inc. buyer who came up with the new product line, and was so excited about it he said he just had to tell somebody.

The Safeway Stores' buyer, who spoke to us on the condition we not mention his name, said Safeway's research shows that consumers will perceive the new "O' Organics" product as "a breath of fresh air" in new product development. That new product line: Safeway "O' Organics" organic fresh air, packaged in clear bottles with a spritzer top. April Fools!!!

[You can follow Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) on at And that's no April Fools.]

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