Whole Foods, 8/31/2009

The corporate mission statement is a tricky thing. As a rule, it cites lofty goals, high ideals, and usually the words “commitment to” and “excellence.” However, the mission statement—in this cynical age—seems to have gone by the wayside. The idea that any corporation could have a conscience seems untrustworthy at best. As consumers become more aware of marketing techniques, they are less likely to “buy” the ideas in a mission statement. Rather, the ideas are used to make the corporation seem “better.” Shell Oil does this with their environmental research advertisements, which crop up regularly on billboards and the back pages of magazines. Companies that donate to cancer research, international human aid funds and food banks are quick to display their laurels.

Whole Foods walks the line between genuine earnestness and shameless pandering. Its Declaration of Interdependence says, without a trace of cynicism,

Achieving unity of vision about the future of our company, and building trust between Team Members is a goal of Whole Foods Market. At the same time diversity and individual differences are recognized and honored. We aim to cultivate a strong sense of community and dedication to the company. We also realize how important leisure time, family, and community involvement outside of work is for a rich, meaningful and balanced life. We must remember that we are not “Whole Life Market.” … “Us versus them” thinking has no place in our company.

This kind of language pervades the employment section as well. There is not one mission statement, but three: each reiterates something said in the Declaration, as well as describing the “fun, friendly and diverse bunch of team members and leadership.” There’s a separate section on Core Values, the Green Mission and more. The mission statement, which in another company might be a single paragraph, gets an amazing amount of attention at Whole Foods. In fact, the “mission” appears in some form on every single page of the website.

So the question is: what is Whole Foods selling?

And with so much ethical, environmental, and community justification, what could it possibly do wrong? CRF

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