When Free Range Brands meet, the chemistry is palpable. But when the King of Convenience marries the Goddess of Goodness, what will their future hold?
A FREE RANGE MARRIAGE
Whole Foods, once an alluring, captivating seductress, has matured from a young, innovative, cultural disruptor into a mature Diva who can be credited with leading the revolution in retail from functional to experiential.
But lately, she’s been showing her age. New store openings haven’t out-innovated the market or even existing stores. Her products, in-store experiences and community are starting to blend into the wallpaper of the foodie culture she herself ignited. She’s fallen victim to her own cause. Her age overcame her agility.
Enter Sweet Prince-turned-King, Amazon, the hands-down Don Juan of the next retail revolution. One kiss and Mother Earth’s stock jumped 29 percent.
Word on the Street is that this marks the dawn of the new era of retail; one in which online convenience and offline experience become one: the long-coming and final deathblow to traditional grocery. But we all know that what attracts, can also destroy.
FREE RANGE PREDICTION
The Amazon / Whole Foods’ honeymoon will prove to be of epic fairytale proportion. The early years will be filled with adventure. Together, they will bear beautiful children who will be seen as retail royalty. The entourage of innovation will be revered and celebrated.
But as the marriage settles into its post-coital bliss, the core of each brand’s essence may come into conflict. Despite her inability to keep up with the trends, Whole Foods is a brand that, among other things, has the “Oprah” effect on any product she blesses to be part of her tribe. And because of that, her community trusts her, without question. Label readers can relax when they engage with her. And Whole Foods’ internal culture is among the most highly regarded, cultivating an employee community that rivals the consumer community.
On the other hand, Amazon, sexy, fast-driving, future King of Everything, is increasingly suspected for the questionable authenticity of the brands it sells, taking little ownership of what’s “in the store.” Employee turnover is among the Fortune 500 highest, compared to Whole Foods’ maternal embrace. Amazon’s ever-thin margin game is quite a different flavor from the high-touch Goddess of Green. And her dowry of over 400 brick and mortar destinations are also 400 shipping warehouses nicely situated in urban and affluent suburban communities.
So, is he to be trusted with her hand? What will become of her? The answer lies in Amazon’s ability to add back the innovation while retaining the Whole Foods brand of trust and culture or she’ll be gone forever. Can it be done?
Bling only goes so far. And when the luster wears off, our founding Mother of Wellness may just find herself headed for retail therapy.
WHAT’S THE LESSON?
Free Range Brands can never rest. The most innovative must keep innovating. There is no such thing as static on the ever-evolving Free Range.
The Whole Foods is a story is case in point. The brand has been out-innovated as “food-as-culture” brands have become pervasive. New experiential brick and mortar retailers like Mariano’s and Trader Joe’s have taken a page from her playbook. Online high-trust retailers like Thrive Market have taken “high trust” from offline destination to online community. The accessibility and mainstreaming of “better for you” has all chipped away at what once set Whole Foods apart.
When the innovators don’t have the courage to out-innovate themselves, someone else will.
Rest in Peace, Whole Foods.