Back in December, I defended Whole Foods when Business Insider took its first shot at empty shelves and disorganization.
I did that primarily because the store checks they cited were the week of Thanksgiving, and just about every supermarket in America looks like a hot mess that week.
Now, another article has come to the surface, this time talking widespread out of stocks.
They’re saying the new order-to-shelf system, aimed at reducing unnecessary inventory, is wreaking havoc on aisles. Social media complaints are pointing at Amazon’s acquisition, and the timing is suspect, but this is a system that’s been in implementation phase since before Amazon.
Why are we suddenly hearing bout rampant out-of-stocks? And is it really this bad?
Business Insider’s store checks are primarily in New York City and the Northeast, so I was curious. I sent my husband out to Whole Foods on Jan. 18. At two stores in North Austin, shelves were A-OK. That’s not fair, though. This is Austin, the hometown of Whole Foods.
I asked Ashley Nickle, my colleague at The Packer, to check the Overland Park, Kan., store. A-OK.
Now it was time to turn to some professionals, so I hopped over to Jicco by Field Agent, which is like Google for retail. I asked “agents” to send me photos of empty shelves at Whole Foods, and they delivered. Over a wide swath of the country, in just over five hours.
OK, guys. Something’s going on. But could it be related to trucks? We all know what’s going on with trucks right now, but the store check tells me that’s not it.
There was no asparagus, broccoli or artichokes in Fresno.
In Hillsboro, Ore., there was only one empty shelf, but the store checker noted there was only one bag of lemons left on a display.
Cottonwood Heights, Utah, was wiped out of bananas.
Kildeer, Ill., was wiped out of rainbow chard.
San Antonio had no organic cucumbers.
The banana set in Town and Country, Mo., was atrocious.
Get this. Rocky River, Ohio — OHIO — was light on mushrooms. (Approximate distance to Kennett Square, Pa., = 400 miles. Leamington, Ontario, is half that. Not a transportation issue.)
Wynnewood, Pa., was light on chard, too.
In Omaha, the pre-cut vegetables were thin, and the store checker noticed “barely any fresh cheese available.”
Something’s going on, and Whole Foods needs to figure it out. This is more than weather, trucks and holiday wipeout.
You can’t sell what you don’t have on a display, and consumers will only give you so many chances. If Amazon was hoping to lure people in with lower prices, Whole Foods better deliver with the experience people expect.
I rescind my previous defense of this issue. Something’s not right here.
Pamela Riemenschneider is editor of Produce Retailer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.