Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day 2008: Whole Foods Market, Inc. Becomes the First Major U.S. Food and Grocery Retailer to Stop Using Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bags Tomorrow

Tomorrow is G (green)-Day for supernatural grocery retailer Whole Foods Market, Inc.

Beginning first thing tomorrow morning (Earth Day 2008) when the doors open at the retailer's stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods will no longer be offering customers the option of single-use plastic carrier bags for their grocery purchases.

Instead of the typical "reusable, paper or plastic" (bag) question asked each shopper at the checkout stand in a Whole Foods' store, tomorrow that refrain will be shortened to just "reusable or paper," with a major emphasis on the "reusable" option.

Beginning tomorrow, Whole Foods Market, Inc. becomes the only major food and grocery retailing chain in the United States and likely the world to voluntarily stop offering the thin, plastic single-use carrier bags to customers in its stores.

In order to celebrate the event as well as Earth Day 2008, the supernatural grocer is holding regional promotions throughout the USA, Canada and at it's store in the UK tomorrow and the rest of the month, since Whole Foods has proclaimed April as "Earth Month" in honor of Earth Day.

For example, in many regions of the U.S., Whole Foods will donate 10 cents for every single reusable shopping bag customers bring into the store tomorrow to local environmental organizations.

In Atlanta, Georgia for example, the Whole Foods' stores in that region will donate 10 cents for every reusable shopping bag customers bring in to bag their own groceries with to Atlanta Beautiful, a non-profit organization that creates and implements public education and community improvement programs designed to make the Atlanta Metropolitan region cleaner and greener, according to the group.

All Whole Foods stores currently give shoppers 10 cents for every reusable shopping bag they bring in to have their grocery orders bagged in. That program will continue with the elimination of single-use plastic carrier bags in all of the grocer's stores starting tomorrow morning. Whole Foods will still offer shoppers free paper grocery sacks made out of 100% recyclable paper.

The supernatural grocer's store team members will be getting into the Earth Day spirit in a literally "green" way tomorrow. Every store-level Whole Foods worker in the U.S will participate in what the grocery chain is calling a "Green Out" tomorrow by wearing green attire from head to toe all day on Earth Day in the stores.

The jolly "green" store team members will be doing lots of environmental educating in the stores tomorrow, including making a big push for shoppers to adopt a reusable shopping bag lifestyle and habit.

Whole Foods is selling numerous reusable bags in its stores, as well as giving a certain number of the bags away for free in its stores tomorrow. The grocer sells a variety of canvas reusable shopping bags--including those made from organic and Free Trade cotton as well as conventionally-grown material--in a variety of price ranges.

The grocer also recently introduced its "A Better Bag," which is made from recycled (80%)plastic bottles and sells for 99 cents each.

Another fun and interesting regional event to celebrate the end of the plastic carrier bag era at Whole Foods is being conducted tomorrow at one of its stores in Raleigh, North Carolina. Store team members there will be holding an "eco-fashion show" from 6-8pm in the store, with all of the outfits made from single-use plastic carrier bags. No word if Heidi Klum will be in attendance.

In addition to celebrating the elimination of plastic grocery bags in the stores and the promotion of reusable ones, all Whole Foods' stores also are offering a myriad of Earth Day "green" events and promotions tomorrow and throughout the month. These include celebrations and in-store tastings of organic and sustainable foods, promotions featuring locally-grown food and grocery products with appearances by local farmers and food purveyors in-store, natural and organic body care promotions and giveaways and more.

The stores across the U.S., Canada and the UK also are conducting numerous tie-in promotions with local non-profit groups which are designed to raise money for environmental activities, ranging from local litter clean up projects, "green" education programs for children, sustainable urban gardening projects, and other similar activities.

Whole Foods also is working on finding alternatives to the use of the plastic bags it currently is using in its produce, bakery, seafood and bulk foods' departments, we've learned.

Among those alternatives the food retailer is looking at include a new-generation bag that's made completely from natural ingredients such as cornstarch. Any such bag must meet USDA standards for food grade quality however, which makes finding alternatives easier said than done at present.

Paper bags made out of 100% post-consumer recycled materials might be a good solution for the bakery and bulk foods' departments however, since paper bags have been used throughout history to contain fresh baked goods and bulk foods' products.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. is a trend-setter in food and grocery retailing, especially in the U.S. It was the first large chain to push organic food and grocery products in a major way, although independents were doing so long before Whole Foods was even founded. It's also the largest chain focusing on "locally-grown" foods and grocery products in the U.S., among other innovations.

Major supermarket chains and mass merchandisers like Kroger Co., SuperValu, Inc., Safeway Stores, Inc. Wal-Mart, Target and others pay very close attention to what Whole Foods does in terms of corporate policies (especially environmental) and in it's merchandising. Beginning tomorrow, these chains and most others will be watching the effects Whole Foods' elimination of single-use plastic carrier bags from all its stores has on the retailer.

In our analysis, all the effects will be positive ones we believe. We doubt any customers will stop shopping Whole Foods' stores because it will no longer offer plastic grocery bags as an option. In fact, we believe the grocer has already benefited from all the pre-Earth Day plastic bag-ban publicity it's received, which likely has increased the customer count in the already booming stores.

We don't believe however that any major supermarket and mass merchandiser chains like those we mentioned above will stop offering the thin, single-use plastic bags in their stores anytime soon. The consumer focus of the retailers is more "mass" than Whole Foods and they still believe eliminating plastic bags would cause them a loss of customers--and business.

We think some small to medium-size regional chains and local multi and single-store independents in the U.S. could follow Whole Foods' lead and stop offering the plastic grocery bags in their stores.

However, for the near to medium-term we think Whole Foods will remain the only major U.S. chain for now that doesn't offer single-use plastic carrier bags in all of its stores, with the exception of course of those food and grocery retailers who are in states or cities where single-use plastic carrier bag-bans have either been passed or soon will be passed. And, of course, in those instances the bag-ban laws are uniform for all grocery retailers. Therefore, there isn't a real or perceived competitive advantage one way or the other.

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