Whole Foods Has a ‘Wonderful Life’ Moment


Whole Foods Markets recently launched a promotion that reminds me of one of the most beloved movies in film history.

Frank Capra’s 1946 drama “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the charming Christmas tale with a timeless lesson: the need for each of us to realize our positive contributions by imagining what the world would be like if we never existed.

Some 67 years later Whole Foods has taken a similar tack by telling us what the world would be like without bees.


Whole Foods wanted to spotlight the declines in bee populations and to promote efforts to preserve bees, including through a reduction in the use of pesticides.

So, as reported in SN, the retailer pulled about half the produce items out of a store in Rhode Island to illustrate how the department would be impacted without bees to pollinate plants. It distributed before and after photos showing lots of empty shelves in the latter case.

This is a novel approach that turns the typical promotion on its head. Normally you’d highlight something, such as produce, and maybe you’d cite the contributions of  bees as part of that.


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This time, however, the focus is on the empty space resulting from the lack of bee contributions.

I describe all this not because I recommend supermarkets launch weekly promotions that remove products from shelves, but rather because it underscores how retailers need to keep their sights on education and innovation.

It’s true that supermarkets aren’t schools, but they are educators. From in-store classes to educational signage, supermarkets are at the center of helping to teach their communities. In recent years we’ve seen a lot of efforts directed at nutrition and obesity. The bee promotion is yet another example of this education mission.

Supermarkets are also innovators, or should be, and this is particularly important for in-store merchandising. Some of the most recent innovation examples reported by SN include tie-ins with celebrity chefs and unusual cross-promotions and displays. Whole Foods’ bee promotion was similarly out of the box (or hive).

Read more: Whole Foods Imagines Produce Dept. Without Bees

And make no mistake, despite its educational angle, it was definitely a promotion as well. Consider the headline of a related Whole Foods blog post: “Love Zucchini? Buy it for the Bees!”

Part of innovation is cleverly coordinating communication across platforms, from in-store to online. Whole Foods’ initiative included an impressive amount of online content related to the bee effort. Social media were buzzing with this content, including a bee-focused infographic on the retailer’s Twitter account.

Whole Foods’ content included cleverly written copy that suggested actionable solutions to the bee population problem. Among them: “Bee a leader” (encouraging communities to plant pollinator-friendly flowers), “host a hive” (spotlighting the backyard beekeeping movement) and “bee generous” (contributing to research).

Let’s put aside bees for a moment and look at broader takeaways for retailers. Imagine a supermarket without either education or innovation. What would it have? Endless shelves with products, and that’s about it.

Doesn’t sound like such a wonderful life.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

richard Brown (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2013

This is a serious worldwide problem and as a vendor of Whole Foods we fully support their focus on this and GMO labeling as well as their across the board environmental education efforts.

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Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

Liz Webber

Liz Webber is Senior Digital Manager at Supermarket News. She covers fresh foods for the magazine and creates multimedia, blog posts and other content for the website. She joined SN in August 2012.
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