Love Whole Foods' Organics? How Amazon Could Alter Them

One view: Small farms could be hurt, and standards weakened
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2017 11:50 AM CDT
The Future of Organics Could Be Up to Amazon
Produce at a Whole Foods Market in Andover, Mass.   (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Amazon rocked the grocery world this month with its plan to buy Whole Foods. While the deal has not been approved yet, it's still generating all kinds of commentary on what it would mean for supermarkets and consumers. At the Washington Post, however, Caitlin Dewey assesses the "big consequence" that "no one's talking about": the deal's effect on small and mid-sized organic farms, and on the entire organic market in general. In short, it may be bad news on both fronts. Details on that and other aspects of deal:

  • The farms: Smaller farms are worried that Amazon will do to them what it did to small players in the publishing industry: make them obsolete. Whole Foods is the nation's biggest organic retailer, and Jeff Bezos' push for lower prices may mean that only large industrialized operations will survive.
  • 'Organic': "But the real harm may come to the organic brand if Amazon pushes for price concessions that lead producers to compromise on environmental and formulation standards," writes Dewey. It's possible consumers might see more products labeled as "natural" instead of "organic." Unlike the latter, the "natural" label means nothing in the eyes of the Agriculture Department.

  • Counter-view: NPR rounds up views from small suppliers who are optimistic about the deal. Yes, Amazon has the reputation of squeezing out the small guy, but this time might be different. "Potentially, they say, Amazon will open new and better distribution channels, helping them sell products through an online platform with immediate name recognition."
  • Not enough: A post at Quartz looks at the organic issue from a different perspective, pointing out that there's not enough organic food to meet the nation's growing demand. Amazon's entry into the industry might convince more farmers that it's worth the pricey investment and three-year process to convert acres into certified organic fields.
  • Fewer humans: Aside from the organic issue, one thing seems clear if the deal goes through: Thousands of grocery store workers will lose their jobs through "Amazon-style automation," per an op-ed at CNN.
  • The specifics: Bloomberg reports that cashiers would be safe at first, with warehouse workers taking the first immediate hit. Indeed, it says that during talks, "Amazon spent a lot of time analyzing Whole Foods' distribution technology" and looking for ways to cut costs.
  • Fewer coupons: CNBC says Amazon's relentless push for lower prices may ripple across the industry, which could eventually mean the demise of coupons.
(More Amazon stories.)

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