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April 28, 2006

How Whole Foods lost us to Wild Oats:

Dear Whole Foods (specifically Whole Foods at 2201 Wilshire),


I'm a special-needs eater (read: I cannot eat wheat or wheat gluten). And that means that grocery shopping can be a high-maintenance activity, any time I'm branching out beyond fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy. Beyond the very serious allergy issues, there are also picky-eater-type issues of taste. There are things I enjoy more than others, flavor-wise, and when I find something really wonderful that doesn't send me into migraine hell WHILE TASTING YUMMY, I'm going to be your best customer for it. Count on that.

But on Wednesday, April 26th, you lost me. I didn't know you had been replaced until Thursday, April 27th, but I did know for sure on Wednesday that I would not be back to Whole Foods for my gluten-free shopping needs.

See, on that day, my wonderful husband (who is also the head chef around here) went to your store with a fairly typical list of gluten-free goodies with which he was to return home. But when he asked your bakery department clerk, Diego, to help him obtain some Kinnikinnick pizza crust, he was dismissed.

Let me get specific.


You don't actually carry Kinnikinnick pizza crust. You never have, in the four months since I discovered that it exists (and that it is wonderful). But after having called, having been assured it DID exist, and then having driven to three of your other locations--none of them nearby--only to find that it did NOT exist, back in January of 2006, my husband finally decided to ask someone at your store--the one closest to our home--to place an order for the product. And some wonderful employee, back in January, actually did order a case for us, which we bought at a 100% markup from the list price as advertised by the company, because at least you went to the trouble to get it for us.

Past tense.

When my husband asked Diego to please place an order for us again on April 26th, he was scoffed at. "We don't do that," Diego said. My husband replied, "Oh? Well, you've done it for us before. Is there someone I could speak with about placing an order again?" The response was, "We stopped doing that. How long ago did you do it? We don't do it anymore." And then Diego walked away. He was finished engaging in customer service.

My husband called me from the store to ask what the name of the other product was that I'd been looking for. That'd be the Sahale snack blends (for which I've been jonesin' since a week ago, when one of the blends was in a gift basket I'd received). I told him the name of the product and he informed me those weren't at your store either.


Now, this is particularly odd since, on the website for the product, your exact location is listed as one of THREE stores in our area that regularly stocks Sahale Snacks. After my husband's encounter with Diego, however, he chose not to inquire further about any "special requests" (even though this wouldn't be considered "special," since it's allegedly a product you regularly carry).

I knew I wanted to be sure to share my displeasure with you over the way in which my husband was treated in his attempt to purchase something from your store--something we had been able to purchase from you previously (and pay quite a lot for, seeing as it was a CASE of the product, priced at single-serving markup levels)--but it wasn't until April 27th that I learned what my real "problem" was with this whole thing.

See, on the 27th, my husband and I went to Wild Oats (specifically Wild Oats at 1425 Montana) to see if they had some of the items we were unable to find at your store the day before. Now, we didn't find either Kinnikinnick or Sahale Snacks at Wild Oats (and neither product is listed as available at Wild Oats locations, on their respective websites), but what we did find was EXCELLENT customer service in the form of our cashier, Courtney.


As we began our interaction, I asked Courtney whether Wild Oats might be able to order a product for us. She asked what it was and I told her about the Kinnikinnick frozen pizza crusts. She paused and then said, "Oh, yeah! I've heard of that! It's good, right?" When the light bounced off her nose-ring, I smiled, as she was so perky and eager to discuss a PRODUCT (How novel! Right?) with a CUSTOMER. She then proceeded to find out what shift the manager was working the following day (after explaining that the current manager on duty was visiting from another store and probably wouldn't be able to assure the order would go through without a hitch) and suggested that we phone in the morning in order to place any special order we might have.

Now, before you start thinking that she's a "Susie Policy" kind of gal (the teenager who is the Future Business Leader of America type and not just some kid working an after school job), I can tell you that I certainly didn't get that vibe from her. She simply seemed like someone who enjoyed her job enough to interact with those she came into contact with over the course of her shift--and even if she couldn't help us, didn't mind getting information to us on locating someone who might be able to do so.

Perhaps this is as simple as someone in your store (Diego) not caring enough about his job or the customers who shop there to step up and make a difference. Perhaps your corporation is "health food oriented" but not "co-op vibe" in nature and that filters down to your employees. I don't know. And it doesn't really matter to me. What matters is, I'd rather do business with a company that--through its EMPLOYEES--respects its customers, whether they have a debilitating food allergy for which they need special items or not.

Oh, and speaking of which, I noticed little tags ALL OVER the shelves at the Wild Oats store, highlighting "GLUTEN-FREE" products in an easy-to-spot manner. My husband mentioned that the other nearby Wild Oats location doesn't have such tags. Another point in the favor of this particular store. (Don't worry, their letter to the customer service department is on its way--and it's a little lovey-dovey, as we special-needs customers like to be treated with such concern and empathy. So, I'll be letting them know that's WAY appreciated.)

Finally, as we were leaving Wild Oats, I mentioned to Courtney that I had picked up a sample of the cucumber body butter, in case she wondered what was in my hand as I was heading out. She said, "Oh! Those are great! Go back and get the shampoo and body wash too!" So, now I have one each of the lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash samples from Giovanni. Wow! Good customer service is so easy. And it means so much. (And, as we all know... people love free stuff!)

We bought far more than we should have, considering the fact that we were walking home (having only planned to pop in and buy a couple of things), but it was totally worth it and I can't wait to go back to the Wild Oats on Montana again. Oh, and tomorrow we shall call manager Alex and place a very large, very expensive special order. And if it's not expensive? We'll order double. As a thank you. (And as a little bit of an F-U to Whole Foods.)


Posted by bonnie at April 28, 2006 12:40 AM


This was such a great letter. I hope it makes a difference.

Eugenie, Marketing Supervisor, at the Whole Foods Market Brentwood, came to a support group meeting of ours this past March. She indicated that she would be accommodating to any ideas that would be of help to us. I'd like to pass this on to her, with your consent.

Posted by: Suzanne at April 28, 2006 9:55 AM

Tell Whole Foods they've lost another customer! I don't go there very often, but I do occasionally, and I will move over to Wild Oats in solidarity with you and Keith. Great letter.

Posted by: Erik at April 28, 2006 10:05 AM

Thanks, y'all.

I've been contacted by Whole Foods corporate, letting me know that they are sorry for the poor service we received and that they are forwarding my letter to the local store. We shall see!!

I'm totally cool with going to the Brentwood Whole Foods if they can win me away from the Wild Oats on Montana. (But I doubt they can. Did you READ the part about all of the little "gluten-free flags" on the shelves all through the aisles?? HELLO!)

Thanks for the feedback and support. It ain't politics or religion or the environment, but dammit, I think customer relations is pretty dang important in a time when we have soooooo many options. :\

Posted by: Bon Author Profile Page at April 28, 2006 2:38 PM

Yeah remember how once upon a time there was this phrase, "The customer is always right"? What happened to that. Now places are just like, "Sorry ma'am, we have a strict no refund policy."

"Even though I didn't request this service and actually cancelled the service last month?"

"I'm sorry ma'am. We have a strict no refund policy."

Anyway, I've never had a problem with Whole Foods Santa Monica, but I have no food allergies or anything (yay me!) so I pretty much just buy whatever the hell I want wherever I want to (yay me!).

I'm going to boycott Diegos/Jameses instead. I will not go to San Diego until people with gluten allergies see justice!

And Jameses are kind of cute/sexy but generally pretty flaky anyway.

Posted by: babes at April 28, 2006 4:00 PM

You GO girl!! I LOVE when people "fight city hall" - whoo-hoo!

I know of the WILD OATS in Santa Monica, 'cause its near a casting studio. Gotta find out if there's one here in West Hollywood -- 'cause with my wheat, peanut butter, shrimp, carrot, apple and dairy allergies, I've been shopping a LOT at whole foods.......now I don't THINK so!!!

Posted by: DebC at April 29, 2006 12:45 AM

Hi Bon! Showtalk gave ust eh link to check out your revirw of Akeelah & The Bee but this topic hits home for me.

I'm gluten intolerant as well and have had the same problem in my area with Whole Foods not carrying the Kinnickick product. The pizza crusts, white bread, bagels, english muffins and cinnamon donuts are wonderful!!!!!

I use the pizza crust for garlic toast as well and it is so good. Just take olive oil and lightly coat the top side then sprinkle with garlic powder and bake until browned. It's fabulous!

I'm glad you wrote the letter since I have complained as well. Wild Oats in my region seems to be making a concerted effort to bring in more gluten free foods so that's a plus.

Posted by: bittysmom at April 29, 2006 7:18 AM

I always think of you at our [Tulsa] Wild Oats, because our store also does the little "gluten free" tags! :-D
G and I always love shopping there...it's the only place in which we ENJOY grocery shopping. And our cashiers/CSRs always seem like they are having a GREAT time, too. And one of them wears *my* glasses! It's like "home."

Posted by: Jeannini-Nini Author Profile Page at May 1, 2006 1:51 PM