How To Get Banned For Life From Whole Foods

Do you wander the aisles at Whole Foods, soaking up all the good vibes from the organic, sustainable, and good-for-you products?

Ever been tempted to snitch a sample?

Well, you’d better not

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  • Judith Umbria
    April 26, 2006 4:58am

    Well, the comments certainly convince me to place my trust in American youth. I would like to ban her for life from my life. And the rest of them, too. Who wants to know that next time one of them may put the meatball back into the serving bin? Their judgement doesn’t reassure me that this is not possible.

  • meginAB
    April 26, 2006 6:07am

    We don’t even have a Whole Foods – something to do with living at the beach and NO customers come from that direction. They need more people to draw in.
    PS I really enjoy your blog. I can’t wait to get back to Paris

  • Ash
    April 26, 2006 7:04am

    Euw! Don’t people get that you actually have to pay for what you eat? Life isn’t a free buffet.

    If it was my store I’d ban her too :)

  • J. Bo
    April 26, 2006 7:56am

    This (thoroughly believeable) tale seems to be an overreaction to an overreaction. Perhaps I’m naive, but, then again, I’ve NEVER had such an experience at Whole Foods. I’ve shopped at WF stores fom Chicago to San Diego, and I’ve been offered free samples of baked goods, dips, spreads, etc., and AGGRESSIVELY approached to sample deli items, including soy meatballs.

    Again, I might be naive, but I bet if you tell this story to corporate headquarters you’ll get MORE than an apology.

    At least I HOPE you’ll get more than an apology. Whole Foods has always done right by me; I’d really hate to know I’ve put my faith (and grocery dollars) in a bogus organization…

  • April
    April 26, 2006 8:58am

    I’d beware of calling Whole Foods “sustainable.” I have had friends who worked there that say they are not allowed to take any food that is about to be thrown out because then they are less likely to buy food, thus decreasing sales. Plus they are anti-union (that same old crap about how the “free” market and competition is good except when it comes to the labor force – “trust us, we’ll do what best for you”).

  • April 26, 2006 9:58am

    I must say I have mixed feelings about that. on the one hand it’s a bit rude to sample a food that wasn’t offered by the store (sadly, I’m familiar with this kind of conduct in my country also) on the other hand WF’s policy is inadmissible – the best deterrence is to hit one’s wallet by making him pay for what he consumed (how will they enforce the writer’s banishment?!) and it’s also bad public-relations. Whole Foods as variation / mutation of Wal-mart?

  • Laura
    April 26, 2006 10:55am

    How odd. My Whole Foods has signs up ENCOURAGING you to sample things, but please use fresh toothpicks/containers. Just…weird.

  • Kristina
    April 26, 2006 12:01pm

    The Whole Foods in downtown Chicago allows samples but asks you to use toothpicks/containers. They ask you to only sample a few and not all.

  • April 26, 2006 12:17pm

    David, as always, you put together a great blog. Thanks for your good work and worthwhile postings.

    Just to comment on the subject, the Whole Foods stores I’ve visited in NJ have specific sample stations set up so that it’s clear what’s for sampling and what’s not.

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I was taught that if you ate things that should be weighed and paid for first before you pay, that’s theft.

    I understand the desire to have a grape to taste if they’re sweet. I get it. However, I also get that each time someone eats the produce without paying, it adds up. Then everyone pays the price when the fee per pound increases due to the loss to the store.

    Now, it’s a different story if you go to a local farmer and ask to try something first. They would be happy to serve you. And, it would support your local farms.

    I know the original blogger was talking about a meatball, but frankly, after being a college student and seeing what folks do to open buffets when they think no one’s looking, I thought I’d apply the discussion to produce. It seems like what more people would be likely to sample.

    By the way, the Whole Foods in Montclair was much better when it was just Fresh Fields.

    Just my two cents.

  • April 26, 2006 12:44pm

    Depending on how you look at it, soon she may get what’s coming to her…see here

  • April 26, 2006 1:43pm

    This is an excellent find, as is the post from yesterday. Nice work, David.

  • whit
    April 26, 2006 2:40pm

    I sent this to Company Bitch:

    My husband works in produce on the regional level for Whole Foods. Banning you does not sound like Whole Foods policy to me but I will check with him. I would like to point out two things though. 1. Whole Foods will provide you with a sample of anything if you just ask… it is a company policy. 2. A lot of money and product is lost to random sampling… especially in the bulk section of a store. Since you are not the only person all day who samples even taking one of something in combination with the 15-20 other people who probably sampled the same thing that day adds up.

    On a moral note… stealing is stealing and no matter how you justify it to yourself you in fact were stealing and were in the wrong. Do I think the Det. went overboard… yes, but that still doesn’t put you in the right.

    Oh and as for being anti-union… they are some of the highest paid employees around with free benefits… why would you need a union? Almost all of the companies policies are voted on by the employees.

  • madeleine
    April 26, 2006 7:55pm

    I agree with Whit. Taking something that is not yours, without permission, is stealing. I had that down pat by the age of 5. Call it all the cute names you want, “sampling”, “grazing”, or even “snitching”, it’s still stealing.

    It is also still stealing if the person/company you are stealing from is: really, really mean, or their prices are too high, or you don’t like the way they treat their employees, or they’re a big, faceless corporation with a lot of money, or you think it’s outrageous that they pay security goons to watch you shop. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    And somebody get these kids a spell-checking program. Yikes.

  • John DePaula
    April 26, 2006 8:44pm

    If you think the detective overreacted (and I don’t) then ask yourself, “what little detail has she perhaps left out?”

    One thing’s for sure: Always get BOTH sides of a story before jumping to a conclusion.

  • Jeff
    April 26, 2006 10:54pm

    It’s obvious by the comments here that David attracts the most intelligent Internet users. Whit and Madeleine are right on. If she’s writing about the NYC Whole Foods, we should see if The Amateur Gourmet can track down the infamous wall of shame.

  • Jacques Yuse
    April 27, 2006 1:41am


  • April 27, 2006 2:57am

    How difficult is it for that writer to see that she’s stealing … taking inventory from the store and then putting it in the trash! Whether she ate it all or not, it was unsalable at that point.

    I see from her latest posting that she’s looking for a job. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that resume crossing my desk.

  • April 27, 2006 4:29am

    Well, for one thing, if you name your blog Company ‘Bitch’, you’re bound to attract a certain amount of nasty folk (you should see some of the vicious messages I get…and I’m ‘Living The Sweet Life in Paris’–how innoculous can that be, I naively thought. I just bake cookies, eat cheese, and swill wine all day and write about it…who knew?)

    But people calling her the “C-Word” is really uncalled for. I mean, it’s just half a faux-meatball, not the entire pension of Enron employees that was stolen. I guess being in New York City, they feel like they need take a very tough stance on that kind of thing.

    My produce supplier has a shop in Berkeley, Monterey Market, which is ground-zero for grape-snitchers and the like. I was there with him in the store once and watched several people ‘sampling’ the wares. I asked him if that bothered him, and he, being a Zen Buddist, softly replied, “They just want to take a taste before buying, there’s nothing you can do about it.
    (Well, I usually give them a very startled look, just to see if they react or are embarrassed…they never were.)
    But then again, that’s Berkeley…

    I am off to the market today here in Paris and will try snitching some grapes and strawberries and see what happens.
    If you don’t hear back from me in a few days…assume the worst. If I’m successful, I’m off to Laduree, to tempt fate again.

  • K
    April 27, 2006 2:53pm

    I also work for Whole Foods, and the policies for sampling are such that just about anything and everything (excluding wine and beer), are to be opened for a customer if they ask for a taste. And that’s the key – *ask* for a taste. We’re always cracking open a different brand of soymilk because someone wanted to know if they’d like it as much as they’re old brand; opening a bag of cookies, giving people samples of soups, cheese, sausages, you name it.

    The blogger’s sense of entitlement is really distasteful to me; the way she justifies her stealing (and yes, if you don’t ask, it is stealing), is quite sad. The comments on her site from people expressing outrage are also beyond words. Get a grip, a lifetime ban may be harsh, but to go waltzing through the store munching on food you’re not paying for is really not okay.

    Regarding unions. Do you know the average pay for Whole Foods team members is in the neighborhood of $14 an hour? And that average excludes all non-hourly staff (e.g. managers) in it’s calculation.

    Did you know that when you work in the union grocery stores, they don’t have to give you benefits, because they can keep you working just under the required minimum hours? Whole Foods staff make more per hour than union grocery stores, receive better benefits, and geez – have you seen 20/20 lately? How about a clean work environment? We’ve got a third party company that comes in on surprise visits, every month to spend about six hours combing the store for health and cleanliness concerns. Keeps everyone on their toes and our stores clean. I could go on, but this is fairly off topic.

    BTW – I work in the Portland, Oregon store – going on four years now.

  • April
    April 27, 2006 3:56pm

    Just wanted to respond to whit –
    I know that Whole Foods supposedly pays it’s employees well and some have great benefits, etc. I’ve also heard situations where neither are true – Check out the Whole Paychecks? article that talks specifically about underpaid Whole Foods workers here in Chapel Hill, NC in the following link. I would also say that those employees who are able to get those things do so because of the threat of unions – the power of unions – and they are reaping the rewards of unions that have come before them. Mackey obviously realizing the power that unions really have an d, therefore, is attempting to give workers – I’m sorry – “team members” – enough power, wages, benefits to mollify them. Also, some WF employees HAVE wanted to unionize and have even succeeded in doing so only to have the union un-recognized by Whole Foods or worse – fired.
    Others have been victims of some Harlan County Coal Mine-style intimidation – complete with armed guards who were supposedly “protecting the workers from the unions”.
    I don’t have a problem with what Whole Foods is. I even appreciate them for what they do well. I just have a problem with what they pretend they are – sustainable, supporting local farmers, employee-empowering, etc. Just by putting on a socially-responsible face, doesn’t mean that they live up to their own hype.
    I am a member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and we recently threatened a boycott of Whole Foods market to get them to take down the posters of North Carolina Farmers proudly displayed throughout the store. Whole Foods was actually trucking all of their produce across the country and not buying it locally – even when it was seasonally available.

  • Kelly
    April 27, 2006 5:49pm

    Yet another tempest in a teapot — don’t people have real LIVES anymore?

  • April 28, 2006 12:43am

    Kelly: Actually, the way these things seem to be going, she’s on her way to a six-figure book deal and a sitcom.

  • April 28, 2006 9:47am

    Thanks for introducing me to her blog. It’s now been bookmarked and is read daily.

  • May 1, 2006 10:15am

    I was approached on my way out at a whole foods in MI. They told me I was sampling too much every time I was there. The thing is, I was sampling legal samples, things they put out for customers to try. I informed them I dont even live in MI, rather I just come every 3 months and I hadnt been there for at least 6. I was outraged, I called the main office, district managers, etc. I got a letter of apology and a 100 dollar gift card. And, they said they will never say anything to me again.

  • Nikki
    May 1, 2006 1:40pm

    I really don’t understand what the problem is here. If you want a sample of something, just ask. Whole Foods will willingly open anything within reason (no alcohol, although they do offer wine tastings) and allow customers to sample. So it amazes me that people will take it upon themselves to eat half a brownie and “hide” the evidence in produce, or open anything and eat that. A sample is just that, a small sample of something, not a whole anything, or a handful of anything. When you ask for a sample and a Team Member opens it or samples it for you, then it’s free, now when you take it upon yourself to eat as you please, then it is theft.

    And maybe someone can enlighten me on why WFM should be union? I worked for the company for a while. My medical benefits were paid for and there were bonuses practically every month. Now I work for a union company and not only do I have to pay union dues, but I have to wait 5 years for a pension. At WFM, I got a company matched 401(k).

  • May 1, 2006 4:22pm

    Did they over-react? Probably, but basically they were trying to scare someone into not doing something that’s bluntly morally and ethically wrong, and illegal. One meatball? Seems small, unless each of the tens of thousands of customers a day take a meatball. And stick their probably unwashed hands into the buffet bar that you were about to scoop your lunch out of. Or maybe open a jar or box to sample something, after all, what’s the difference? Or maybe a non-food item – why not sample anything else you feel like, in any store? They treated her like a kid who’s been caught shoplifting, by scaring her, and bluntly, she deserved it. Only problem is, it won’t stop her or any of the other folk who think they have the right to grab whatever they want without paying for it and justifying it to themselves and the world with “oh, it was just a little thing.”

  • April
    May 15, 2006 10:26pm

    The point about unions is that Whole Foods, the corporation, should not get to decide whether or not it is unionized – Whole Foods workers should. Fine- if you don’t want a union, then no one is twisting your arm to form one. However, it is dirty to do everything possible to stop workers from forming a union when they choose, too.

  • Matilda Jennings
    March 3, 2009 10:40pm

    This is ridiculous and intolerable. The poor kid SAMPLED A MEATBALL. Not to mention, Whole Foods employs undercover cops.