Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is learning a valuable lesson for all of us. As it turns out, the kind of people who are willing to spend extra money for organic, environmentally-friendly, locally sourced food are not generally the kind of people who respond well to op-ed pieces that start off by quoting Margaret Thatcher on the evils of socialism. Who would have thought?
Seriously, what was Mackey thinking? Does he not know people who shop at Whole Foods? The moment I saw his health care op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I knew there would be trouble. And sure enough, the piece angered so many customers that the Whole Foods website now has an entire "Boycott Whole Foods" section in its forums
Whole Foods apologized and tried to clarify that the op-ed reflected only the CEO's opinions and not the official stance of the company, but it doesn't seem to have helped. "I will never shop there again," seems to be a common sentiment.
I'm not sure what Mackey gets out of the deal. Will the op-ed really have a significant impact on the health care debate? Any at all, much less enough to outweigh the damage done to the company's reputation among a huge segment of shoppers? (Not all, of course -- in fact, some people liked the op-ed so much they promised to start shopping at Whole Foods.)
But Mackey has a history of not thinking through his actions. A couple of years ago, he was caught making anonymous online attacks against rival Wild Oats -- possibly serving to lower its stock prices before Whole Foods moved to buy the company. Oops.