BizFeed: Whole Foods Battling Organic Farmers

Plus: Working on vacation is the norm; Saladworks sold for $16.9 million.

Photo via Flickr/David Shankbone

Photo via Flickr/David Shankbone

Whole Foods in Organic Food Fight

The News: The farmers that supply Whole Foods have some serious issues with the supermarket chain’s new produce rating system. It ranks items as Unrated, Good, Better and Best but farmers argue that non-organic produce can get higher ratings than organic items.

The New York Times has more:

The longtime suppliers to Whole Foods are complaining that the program called Responsibly Grown can grant a farmer who does not meet the stringent requirements for federal organic certification the same rating as an organic farmer, or even a higher one. Conventional growers can receive higher rankings than organic farmers by doing things like establishing a garbage recycling program, relying more on alternative energy sources, eliminating some pesticides and setting aside a portion of fields as a conservation area.

“Whole Foods has done so much to help educate consumers about the advantages of eating an organic diet,” five farmers wrote in a letter sent on Thursday to John Mackey, the co-founder and co-chief executive of Whole Foods. “This new rating program undermines, to a great degree, that effort.”

NPR reports that Whole Foods is charging farmers to be part of the service:

Whole Foods is asking its suppliers to pay a fee to get into the program, then answer a long questionnaire. There are questions about how they protect the soil and wildlife on their farms, whether they limit their use of pesticides, how they conserve energy and irrigation water and how they treat their workers.

Why It Matters: Whole Foods has not only been at the forefront of changing the American conversation about the importance of organic fruits and vegetables, but it’s also had a terrific relationship with its farmers and customers. To see that relationship fray — in such a public way — could open the door for its many organic-focused competitors to grab marketshare.

Whole Foods made another big shift in strategy recently, creating 365 by Whole Foods Market, a chain of stores with more moderately priced merchandise.

Is Saladworks Drama Over? Company is Sold for $16.9 Million

The News:Conshohocken-based Saladworks has seen some serious drama lately. Amid a dispute between its founder and investor, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February. Now, New York buyout firm Centre Lane Partners L.L.C. has acquired the 108-location company for $16.9 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why It Matters: Not only will the deal mean Saladworks will have money to add more upscale ingredients like fine cheeses, organic greens and quinoa, it also puts an end to the in-fighting.

The Inquirer says:

The deal ends Saladworks’ involvement in a paralyzing 2-and-a-half-year dispute between founder John Scardapane and Marlton-based investor Vernon Hill. The tussle landed the company in federal bankruptcy court and in state litigation in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“There is enough to pay Vernon and all the other creditors in full,” said Scott Victor, managing director of SSG Capital Advisors, the West Conshohocken adviser to distressed companies who guided Saladworks through the sale. Hill invested $7.5 million in Saladworks in 2008.

In a land where more and more people are looking for healthier, fast options, Saladworks could be poised for success — especially now that its ownership woes won’t overshadow the company’s mission.

Going on Vacation? Pack Work Stuff With Your Sunscreen

The News: Think your summer vacation will be relaxing? Think again. In a new study, Robert Half found that 68 percent of CFOs are typically in touch with the office during a one-week vacation, a 20 percent increase from three years ago. In fact, 20 percent expect to check in once or twice per day, and 15 percent said they’ll check on work several times per day.

Why It Matters: I recently heard a story about an executive planning a summer vacation. Just days before his much-needed week of rest and relaxation in Florida, his company offered to fly him back to Philadelphia for a few hours to attend a meeting.

What is the world coming to? Don’t companies realize that their employees need a break? With shrinking staffs due to the economic recession and the proliferation of smartphones, people are working around the clock. Let’s give them a break when it’s time for vacation. They’ll come back more energized and engaged.

While this particular study was about senior financial leaders, Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said it sets the tone for the entire staff.

“Employees understand executives will need to check in from outside the office from time to time,” said McDonald. “However, if professionals see senior managers overdoing it and feel pressured to constantly be connected themselves, they may start looking for opportunities offering greater work-life balance.”