But big poultry is incorporating many of Whole Foods' practices to meet demand.
In the lead-up to Amazon acquiring Whole Foods in June for $13.7 billion, the organic grocery store was steadily losing market share to larger companies like Kroger and Walmart. While it seemed clear that Whole Foods would need to make serious changes in order to keep pace with its competitors, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey reassured the public that he wasn’t going to let Amazon mess with the “highest quality, delicious natural and organic products that you’ve come to love and trust” by replacing them with lesser quality versions of themselves. However, it seems like that promise was not an easy one to keep.*
According to a Bloomberg report, a growing percentage of Whole Foods' poultry and beef is now sourced from mega-sized producers, including Perdue and Tyson-owned brands. One way this occurs is that after the products are delivered to Whole Foods for final processing, the company packages the chicken under the 365 Everyday Value label and sells it in its stores, despite being available for a lower cost at other supermarkets. Additionally, while Whole Foods only sells meat that is certified as Step 1 or higher by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), the company sources some of its beef from Meyer Natural Angus, which processes its meat in a Cargill facility in Colorado that also processes GAP-uncertified cattle simultaneously, albeit separately.
Whole Foods' decision to alter some of its sourcing stems from competing supermarkets raising the quality of its own meat in order to compete with Whole Foods specifically. As a result, Whole Foods has had to find ways to sell its own meat and poultry for less. For instance, the Bloomberg report found that Whole Foods was charging $0.50 more per pound—$2.49—for its 365 Everyday Value antibiotic-free chicken thighs than thighs slaughtered at the same Perdue plant which retail for $1.99 elsewhere.*
“If you asked me 10 years ago, will you ever have a lot of Perdue chicken in your stores, I would have said, ‘No, probably not,’” says Theo Weening, Whole Foods' global meat coordinator and buyer. He adds, however, that Whole Foods' decisions echo through the industry as a whole and can make a much larger, positive impact “First it starts with Whole Foods, and then it changes the way animals are raised across the world.”
*Correction Aug. 15, 2017: Whole Foods has contacted Food & Wine to clarify that it carries only beef products from Tyson-owned Open Prairie, and not poultry as was implied by a previous headline. Whole Foods further states that the partnerships are not new, and the products from Tyson and Perdue-owned brands have met and continue to meet the company's standards. The above comparison of chicken thigh prices has been amended to clarify that Whole Foods is not selling the same chicken products for more money, but are sourcing GAP step-rated thighs from different Perdue farms than the other, less-expensive items processed at that same facility.