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Staying whole? Organic giant Whole Foods' buyout sparks speculation

Philly die-hard Whole Foods customers wonder what Amazon buyout means for grocery chain's identity.
Whole Foods on South Street (Reese Amorosi)

When Amazon moved to acquire Whole Foods for $13.7 billion after a long spring of negotiations (as well as nitpicking threats and overall meanness, as discovered in its SEC filing, made public July 7), first reactions from fellow grocery chains were a fit of pique and necessary action. Giant announced a partnership with Instacart Inc. – an on-demand grocery food-delivery service – to offer same-day delivery in the Philadelphia region. 

The U.S. supermarket chain Albertsons had reportedly also sought to buy Whole Foods (as did three other chains), but Amazon had forever sought after a strong grocery outlet to complete its online world (and offline brick-and-mortar) domination of culinary goods and services for low prices (take that Walmart) after long failing to do so.

And it's true that Whole Foods was looking to be bought. Its positive organic branding but negative image of overpriced goods, true or false, was reportedly not doing gangbusters, and it sought other suitors in e-commerce and beyond. Additional bidders can still make higher offers to Whole Foods between now and the shareholders' next voting meeting this autumn, but it would cost Whole Foods $400 million, an amount Recode.com humorously called “a break-up fee.” 

Rather than talk with the suits at Amazon and Whole Foods (who aren’t talking), it is the audience of daily shoppers – devotees who make going to Whole Foods a way of life – who will be most affected by the potential buyout. Metro asked them what they think the Amazon buyout of Whole Foods means and what they hope for a result.

Celine Boyle Mieloch
Personal chef
Whole Foods, 929 South St.

"Whole Foods does not sell products with high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. They sell responsibly sourced meats and seafood, and locally grown produce when possible. My hope would be that that will not change, instead of starting like that and then slowly bringing in cheaper, less healthy foods to increase profits."

Dylan Dellobuono
Teacher
Whole Foods, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave.

"Whole Foods is a place I actually like going to, but there are less people shopping at brick-and-mortar shops, and more people shopping online. I think the deal should work out, but I really hope that my Whole Foods remains the same."

Beth Ann Kessler
Interior designer
Whole Foods, 929 South St.

"I think Amazon wanted to increase its physical retail presence, and the owners of Whole Foods got to cash out. Now Amazon can say it even carries food from A to Z. My hope would be that all the organic food I like to purchase will be more abundant and at a lower price, thus changing the retail food industry. Those who ordinarily may not consider buying organic food due to normally higher prices than conventional food may choose to purchase it now. If the demand is there, the supply will increase. I can wish, can't I? Food quality is really important to me. It comes with my years of macrobiotic study. I'd be very disappointed if Amazon changes the WF model and degrades the organic section."

Garrett Elwood and Liz Tily
Husband and wife/realtor and nurse
Whole Foods, 500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA

Garrett: "It will be interesting to see what value Amazon brings to the Whole Foods shopping experience. I know that, so far, no internet-based business has been able to be successful in the grocery sector. I remember Priceline's failed attempt years ago."
Liz: "I shop there for their quality and standards. If that is compromised, I'll go elsewhere. Their business philosophy jives with how I conduct my life, and if that is altered, I will reassess where I spend my money. I like to hold myself personally accountable for not just my health but the health of the community, country and globe. Realizing every decision I make impacts our world, I choose to act in ways I can, like how I spend my hard-earned dollars."

Evan Gusz
Bookkeeper
Whole Foods, 2101 Pennsylvania Ave.

"Whole Foods has to prove themselves, competitively, with the Shop Rites and the Acmes where I also buy our groceries. So does Amazon. I actually looked into using AmazonFresh, but it was too expensive for what it was. For the price that Amazon paid for Whole Foods, I think it means that they’re truly serious about going toe-to-toe, pricewise, with their competition. If they’re not, I’m not interested in shopping there. I have three Amazon Echos that I use a lot – even for our grocery list – so if anyone was going to integrate with their grocery service, it would be me … if the prices were better."