Whole Foods’ Casual Shoplifting Problem

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At least once every day, a gray-haired lady comes into the prepared foods section of the Chapel Hill store and asks for a cup and a spoon. She then takes a napkin and goes around serving herself portions from the hot bar, smoke bar, granola bulk bar, pop-up station, sushi station, theme bar and chef case. It adds up to a pretty hefty lunch, which she does not pay for. Furthermore, she takes her “samples” in a way that isn’t sanitary and contaminates entire batches of food on the bars- she dips the same spoon into the food trays and then puts it into the same cup. She then walks out without buying anything except perhaps a small coffee. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day. She’s one of many who do this every day in the Chapel Hill store alone. Some people skip the cup and spoon altogether, and simply take entire burgers or pieces of fish with their bare hands (or with utensils that were just in their mouths) and shove them into their mouths right in the middle of the store.

Every day in the Durham store, there are customers who will fill entire containers with hot bar food (which is expensive) and eat it semi-stealthily as they go through the aisles of the store. They then drop the container and any leftovers in the middle of the aisles or shove them onto the shelves, and don’t pay for anything. Then there are other customers who will come into the Whole Body section (which has lots of tiny, very expensive items), steal items off the shelves and then immediately bring them to the customer service desk for “refunds.” Customers don’t need to have opened the items or present their receipts to get refunds, so a customer who stole $50 of product off the shelves gets the full $50 from the customer service desk. The employees know about this; they deal with it every day. But they aren’t allowed to do anything about it.

Other customers even complain about the shoplifting when they see it happening. But store policies forbid employees from coming up and saying something like “Excuse me, the hot bar food is by the pound so please pay for your food before eating it.” At most, employees can get store leadership (if they have time, which they don’t because they have jobs to do and thefts tend to happen quickly), and even they have to beat around the bush rather than be direct. Whole Foods hires security guards at many stores including Durham, but does not allow its employees to approach shoplifters and say “Hey, can you not do that please?”

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Whole Foods has a very liberal sampling policy. A customer can sample any product in the store at any time (not just in prepared foods.) If they ask for a sample of the most expensive product in the store, employees have to open that product, give them a sample, and then either sample out the rest or throw the rest away. Whole Foods higher-ups claim that these policies are rarely taken advantage of or abused. But they’re not fooling anybody.

whole foods samples

The great irony:

Whole Foods is constantly on crusades to severely limit and regulate employees from sampling food at all. The employee sampling policy is micro-managed to the enth degree, just in case an employee were to take two half-ounce samples instead of one. Likewise, employees are forbidden from consuming leftovers that are about to be thrown away. While I worked at Whole Foods, I didn’t get paid enough that I was able to make ends meet. I couldn’t always afford food, much less food from Whole Foods, so I was really hungry. When I had leftovers after I did a pop-up or big dinner event, I really wanted to eat some, but instead I had to throw everything away. Every kitchen I’ve ever worked in previously has had enough humanity to maintain the “if there are leftovers at the end of the night, you can eat them or take them home” policy. But at Whole Foods, you have to waste all those leftovers while going hungry and watching customer after customer steal significant amounts of product right in front of your face. Because if that doesn’t look like a reflection of Whole Foods’ core values, I don’t know what does.

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