retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

There was an interesting exchange that took place a couple of weeks ago between Whole Foods founder John Mackey and a food blogger who suggested that if Whole Foods really wants to be as socially responsible as it says it is, it would stop selling meat.

The blogger, a fellow named James McWilliams, said that while Whole Foods has done a lot to be admired for, its meat counter "taints everything" it has accomplished. And he suggested that Whole Foods should get rid of a department that is "defined by obscurity, animal exploitation, and the perpetuation of unhealthy food," and in doing so, would actually help to change the dietary habits of consumers.

Now, Mackey essentially responded to this blog post by saying, "give me a break." He said that only 10 percent of Whole Foods' customers are strict vegetarians, and that all that would happen if he stopped selling meat is that 90 percent of his customers would go elsewhere. It would be, he said, akin to "business suicide." And this coming from a guy who says he follows a vegan diet.

Now, I happen to agree with Mackey on this one. (Not that he is looking for approbation from the likes of me.) Whole Foods does it right, providing about as much information about its products as one could ask for. People who shop at Whole Foods already have made a decision about their eating habits, and so they really don't need to be lectured to ... but if they want to eat meat, that's okay.

It is an interesting discussion, though, because it really is about where different people and different companies draw the line.

In many ways, what really is important is figuring out where the line should be, drawing it, and then being consistent about applying standards and transparent about explaining them. It is when companies do not clearly define themselves that they get in trouble ... while this blogger may have been an annoyance, it was not like he could legitimately accuse Whole Foods of violating the pact that it has with shoppers, and that put Whole Foods in a far better position when dealing with the complaint, even though it went a little bit viral online.

When you don't do this, you end up in the muddy middle...which these days, is more like quicksand.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: