A month or two ago, I completed an application at the local Whole Foods to be a Whole Foods Ambassador. I found out last week that I was chosen. The Ambassador Club is basically about 10 people who are selected to provide the managers with feedback regarding products, customer services, improvements/renovations, and any other recommendations.
When I arrived to Whole Foods Plantation, I was directed to a small store next door that is the Whole Foods Bakehouse. I had to walk up a flight of stairs to a conference room. Each participant received a reusable shopping bag, some snacks, and a $25 gift card. Cookies and fruit were on the table.
We began by doing introductions. Each person had a reason for being there... one woman had a daughter with autism, so she followed a gluten-free, casein-free diet. One woman's husband was on a sugar-free diet. One woman was vegan. There were two men who frequently shopped at Whole Foods. Here's the surprising part -- when I looked around at the 9 participants, myself included, 6 were obese (some morbidly obese). They was also minimal ethnic diversity. Now, obviously, our weight and our ethnicity were not asked about on our applications... but it definitely did not seem to be an accurate cross-section of Whole Foods customers.
Obesity really is a serious issue in this country. I think I may have written about it before, but my generation is supposed to be the first generation with a shorter life span than our parents' generation...and that is due to obesity. One woman stated that it is very important that her children eat healthy food, to the extent that she does not allow her kids to eat food with any dyes because of the hazards, but she herself does not eat that way. The "do as I say, not as I do" attitude about food just doesn't work for me. Clearly, if your child has food restrictions based on allergies or textural issues, then your child may need to eat something different than you. But how do you expect your children to be healthy eaters if you are not modeling that behavior yourself. I don't always eat healthy -- but I make a genuine effort to eat well. I eat a somewhat diverse diet. I like foods from all different cultures, I prepare hot meals, cold meals, simple dishes, complex. I introduce Lydia to everything that I prepare (sometimes I make hers less spicy, but it's the same basic flavors). So when I saw that these individuals represent a small group in terms of personal choices and ethnicity, their opinions became slightly less valuable to me.
So what did we talk about? I offered up several ideas:
1. When I go to the milk section at Whole Foods, I get very overwhelmed. I know that dr's tend to recommend almond milk nowadays and different yogurt drinks, but then there is also pasteurized milk, ultra-pasteurized milk, milk from cows that are grass fed, goat's milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc. I suggested some information outlining the different types of milk, similar to what they do in the cheese section.
2. Speaking about the cheese section, I suggested they check all their cheeses daily, as I have found cheese that is moldy and handed it over to the person working in that section. I also suggested that they redesign the cheese section as it is somewhat scattered/disorganized.
3. I thought the signage was good, especially as it relates to upcoming events.
4. I suggested they start carrying at least one or two brands of cloth diapers. They are pretty limited in their diaper options. I am not impressed by Seventh Generation and Earth's Best.
5. Often times I want to purchase prepared foods. There is always an ingredient list posted by the prepared foods, and at the bottom of the list, it says "This item contains the following" and it lists potential allergens (e.g. soy, nuts, wheat), but it does not state whether or not it contains meat. Products such as stocks, bases, and broths are in a lot of rice dishes, soups, etc. so it would be easier if it was listed at the bottom so I don't have to read 20+ ingredients to figure that out.
6. Sometimes I want to purchase a small quantity of their baked goods, but often you have to purchase a large package (one dozen brownies, 20 cookies). I suggested they sell smaller packages, 2 brownies, 4 cookies.
Other people offered all different types of suggestions. Some were a bit out there for me, but some were valuable. It's nice to know that even chain grocery stores value their customers' opinions. I think this is a great program, and I hope they really consider our suggestions to make some improvements. It's just too bad that I feel like the sample of participants is somewhat limited. The next meeting is December 8th. I look forward to contributing more ideas and discussing issues that directly impact the variety and quality of food available to my family.