Sugar for Salad Bars? A Bit of Irony at Whole Foods

Last week I had to dash into a Whole Foods at 6:00pm to grab items for that night’s dinner — with two famished kids in tow. (If you’re a parent, you know how fun that scenario can be.)

As soon as we entered the store we were greeted by a friendly Whole Foods employee offering us brownies and glasses of lemonade.  Of course my hungry kids made a beeline to the table, oblivious to my plaintive cries of “Wait!  Hold on!  We’re about to eat dinner!”  Feeling guilty that our meal wasn’t already on the table at 6:00pm, I sighed in resignation:  “Fine, you can have some lemonade — but no brownies!”

I was getting my shopping cart when my kids came back to tell me that the lemonade cost a dollar a glass.  I looked over at the store employee who explained that the lemonade and brownies were being offered  in exchange for a dollar donation to the Whole Kids Foundation.

Et tu, Whole Foods?
Et tu, Whole Foods?

It was hard not to be struck by the irony:  the Whole Kids Foundation is, according to its own mission statement, dedicated to “help[ing] kids learn to love fresh, nutritious, whole foods,” but to raise funds it was enticing my kids with brownies and lemonade.

Oh, whatever, I thought, ruefully.  I support the foundation, I’d already agreed to the lemonade and mostly I just wanted to get on with my shopping.  So I bit my tongue, handed each kid a dollar and started fishing around in my purse for my shopping list.

And then I overheard this exchange between the solicitous store employee and my kids:

wholefoods - Version 2Whole Foods Guy:  So, do you two know what the Whole Foods Foundation is?

[TLT offspring shake their heads mutely.]

Whole Foods Guy:  The foundation is working to bring salad bars to schools.  Do either of you have a salad bar in your school?

TLT offspring: No.

Whole Foods Guy [while handing over the sugary drinks]:  Well, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get one in your school, and then you can start learning about eating healthy!

OK, that did it.  I walked over to the table.

Me:   Um, that’s a really great goal but don’t you think it’s a little inconsistent to use lemonade and brownies to raise the money for it?

Whole Foods Guy [stammering]:  Wow.  That’s a great point, actually.  But I’m just an employee here and I don’t make these decisions . . .

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the incongruous use of sugary or other junk foods to raise money for kids’ health or fitness.  I’ve described here the tables full of junk food sold to young dancers at their weekend clinic to raise money for the dance team, and, on a much larger scale, a PepsiCo promotion that required the purchase of snacks like Doritos to raise money for school athletics.  But somehow you don’t expect to see this going on at Whole Foods, of all places.*

I assured the Whole Foods employee that I didn’t hold him responsible and it was all very friendly.  Then my kids and I moved on to the produce area where I was met with:

Deeply mortified TLT Teen:  Oh my GOD, Mom!  REALLY??? 

Yeah, it’s hard to be my kid sometimes. . . . .  :-)

*  I was curious to know if the brownie and lemonade fundraiser was going on nationwide (Whole Foods has dedicated the month of September to raising money for the foundation) so the next day I called Whole Foods headquarters in Austin.  A representative in the company’s marketing and communications department told me that managers have autonomy in deciding how to raise money for the foundation and she believes the brownies and lemonade are only being offered in stores in the Houston metro area.  In other geographic areas, she told me, fundraisers have included other sorts of events like outdoor grilling stations.

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  1. Christie Lee says

    One of my local While Foods stores in San Francisco is soliciting donations at checkout. No food enticements, sugary or otherwise. Someone in Houston clearly needs to rethink their strategy!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Christie: Just for the record, our stores are doing that (soliciting at checkout), too, but the sweets table seems to be an added effort.

  2. says

    Wow. I am shaking my head. Seriously?????
    Your WF contact was correct, by the way. Our store does a couple of different fundraising things: One is a special lunch/dinner station, either grilling or in-store with a product feature (I think once it was sliders, another time it was sausage and peppers), and people donate that way. Another tactic they use is to designate 5% of their sales for a day to various causes — the salad bars have gotten a couple of special shopping days, I know, as well as many local nonprofits. Those things seem much more in line with the brand than brownies! I hope someone will bring this up to the Houston store management, and perhaps set some more appropriate guidelines in the future to help stores make more on-brand, focused decisions about these types of fundraisers.

  3. says

    Holy cow! And oh, the irony. Good for you for speaking up. I love that the employee said, “Wow, that’s a good point”. Here’s hoping Whole Foods corporate reads this post and puts an end to this.

  4. Michele Simon says

    So much food at Whole Foods that isn’t. Another irony: I wonder for how much money was spent on that worker’s labor and the brownies and lemonade, WF could have just cut a check to its own charity??

  5. Lunch Lady Jane Doe says

    Our Whole Foods was doing a “fruit table” of apples, oranges, and pears for donations. No set amount required for donation, but a minimum of .25 cents requested for each piece of fruit selected.

    • stef says

      love it! That seems more in line with the reason of the fundraising….

      why not sell salad bar items or fresh foods to kids to raise money for salad bars at school?

  6. Carol says

    Our local Whole Foods is donating 5% of salad bar sales to the salad bars for schools fund – seems a lot more appropriate!

  7. says

    Can totally relate! I was asked to buy Sunny delight so we can save the tops and exchange them for scholastic books for the school…. The teacher seemed annoyed when I said no we do not buy sunny-D. Seems kind of weird to me . wouldn’t it just be better to all donate a book instead??

  8. Lilia Sawyer says

    I completely understand your frustration as I feel it also in my neck of the woods. How is selling Snickers and Chick-Fil-A to kids at lunch congruous with offering healthy food choices? And yet, it is a common fundraiser for the PTAs in our district. (sigh) One day…

  9. says

    Bettina, I am enjoying your website thoroughly! I too am trying to spread the word about processed foods and how harmful they are to us. My pickle is with the Girl Scouts. I did a blog last year about how horrible the food was for our overnight trip (hot dogs, salami, smores, juice boxes, donut holes – I’m not kidding). I didn’t say anything on the last overnight, but I think this time I will.

    But my problem now is the cookies themselves. Each year we go to friends, family and neighbors to sell these chemically filled cookies (meanwhile I’m blogging how harmful this garbage is to us !!!). I have decided not to participate in this years cookie sales and will make a monetary donation to them instead.

    Each of us has a voice and we have to speak up in order to be heard. Even though us not participating in the cookie sale this year won’t make big news, I think each of us combined can make a difference!

    Thanks for all the work you do on your blog! I know how much time and effort it takes.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Debi: Thanks for sharing your experiences here and for your kind words about the blog. I’ve written about Girl Scout cookies in a limited context – several months ago, I was intrigued (and not too pleased) by their recent attempt to market a particular new cookie as a substitute for fruit. You can read my thoughts here. But for more on the GS cookie sale program and the nutritional and environmental concerns it raises, be sure to check out the Spoonfed blog where Christina LeBeau has written extensively about these issues. And now I’m going to go check out your blog, too!

  10. Mary Lawton says

    I guess it was just a matter of time. Whole Foods is now slipping up and selling sugar to kids to raise money for a good cause. I’m so glad you spoke up. And I’m so glad you keep writing about these situations.

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