Whole Foods Enters the Organic World of Half Truths

It’s hard to remember a world before Whole Foods–a time when the best cheese around came wrapped in plastic and organic meant something wasn’t a car part. All of that has changed, of course, thanks to brands that capitalized on a more eco-conscious and discerning “foodie” public that will pay extra—sometimes a lot extra—for Alaffia Shea and Green Tea Revitalizing Body Lotion or Organic Capellini.

However, with organic mania came imposters and obfuscation, and the public became wary of brands claiming to be environmentally friendly. The public understandably became cynical as oil companies and other environmental offenders flooded our screens with touchy-feely commercials filled with smiling locals and leaping whales and financial companies preached about fiscal responsibility and being a good American. So when it seemed like every food brand on the shelves of our supermarkets were suddenly organic, we—the public—knew something wasn’t right. And those instincts are healthy.

Because Whole Foods was ahead of the curve regarding the organic movement, the public has typically exercised a strong faith in the brand.

It was Whole Foods, after all, that brought us organic carrots—which we knew were organic because the green leafy tops were left on (add another $1.50 for that!). And now Whole Foods is taking the lead in the organic narrative by setting the goal of complete GMO (genetically modified products) transparency by 2018.

Yes, that’s five years from now. So if you have a child who is a freshman in college, by the time Whole Foods fully implements this plan your child will have finished school and again be living in your house (though the economy is improving, thankfully). Whole Foods based its reputation on providing customers with organic, untouched and unmolested food products, and the public responded by making the brand a colossal success.

However, this sort of green inflation in which brands attempt to “out-green” each other has caused a very legitimate movement to slide into a consumer vs. brand buzzword purgatory. Does anyone really know what organic means anymore? Why can’t we just grow food and leave it alone?

In making this announcement, Whole Foods tacitly admits that some of its products are not, in fact, organic. How many? The public won’t know until 2018–and we can’t see that uncertainty as a good thing for the brand, transparency aside.