Whole Foods Market: A Luxury Grocer in Detroit?

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: February 17, 2014
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 1-429-371

Core Disciplines: Social Impact, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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Whole Foods has successfully rolled out a new store in a low-income neighborhood of Detroit and company leaders are looking to scale the model to Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and beyond. Chicago would offer $11 million in incentives, but the neighborhood lacks the hospital and university of Detroit’s Midtown, whose employees frequent the grocer during lunch and after work. The brand many know as “Whole Paycheck” must find a way to make itself relevant to low-income populations and address issues of food access and poverty. Students will be asked to evaluate the business decision to enter low-income areas, considering both the “business bottom line” versus “business triple bottom line” debate.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Evaluate whether Whole Foods Market is actually facilitating food access to low-income neighborhoods or taking advantage of a business opening.
  • Evaluate the business decision to enter low-income areas, considering both the “business bottom line” versus “business triple bottom line” debate and the role subsidies played in the company’s decision.
  • Establish whether or not the Detroit model is replicable in other cities of similar demographic backgrounds, specifically Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
  • Explore the social justice issues surrounding the move: Is Whole Foods taking advantage of food insecurity (lack of access to quality food), and is access to quality food a basic human right that Whole Foods Market should be providing to all communities?
  • Determine who the key stakeholders are and who is benefiting from the new Whole Foods store: Is it the local residents, as the company claims, or will this move lead to gentrification negatively impacting the current community?