Whole Foods was established in Austin, Texas in 1980 (Whole Foods). Today, Whole Foods is the world’s largest organic and natural food market, with 270 stores in the U.S. and England. Whole Foods also prides itself on the company culture, excellent customer service and sustainable relationships with a consortium of stakeholders. As Whole Foods continues to delight and expand their customer base, it appears that Whole Foods does not have a transparent policy for accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards (EBT). So why is this important? If Whole Foods does accept EBT, why isn’t publicized?
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program formerly, Food Stamp Program (USDA) is important because it assists low-income families make healthy food choices and expands their nutritious food options. Evidence appears to suggest a correlation between obesity and the availability of quality food (Johnson-Down et al, 1997). Hence, issues of dietary fat intake, mortality and risk factors; are associated with lower social economic statuses. Moreover, costs associated with obesity in 2003 were $75billion and catapulted to $125billion in 2006. The demographics of food stamp participants comprise the elderly, disabled, low-income families, children and veterans. Interestingly enough, as the macro-environment of the recession has impacted more middle-class families, increased participation (CBS News) of middle-income families has been significant. Changing demographics due to the recession make this subject matter timely and important.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal program that guides potential food retailers. “Any retailer that would like to accept SNAP benefits (EBT) must be licensed to participate in SNAP. This section provides information for retailers who want to apply for a SNAP permit. Today, the only form of SNAP benefit issuance is the EBT—Electronic Benefits Transfer card. EBT allows you, the retailer, to accept SNAP payment for food using the EBT card–a kind of debit card (USDA).”
One of Whole Foods core values is transparency. “We seek to create transparency from “farm to fork” with respect to production, planning, sourcing, ingredients, product safety and efficacy in order to bring to market the safest highest quality products available. We work with our supplier partners in eliminating all unnecessary production and distribution costs to help ensure the best possible price (Whole Foods).” Within this context Whole Foods does appear to strive for excellence in this capacity. However, there are numerous conflicting reports with regards to Whole Foods acceptance of EBT cards in North America.
Conventionally most supermarkets accept EBT cards. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, Public Law 107-171, Section 411b requires the Secretary of Agriculture to submit a report on the status of the EBT system to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives. Within this report the number of vendors that entered in to contract is reported. As a result, it is still not clear if Whole Foods accepts EBT cards; which may ultimately explain why there are no EBT logos on their storefronts. In addition, there has been much ado about Whole Foods 365 Private Label compared with other supermarket private labels and the affordability factor for EBT cardholders. EBT customers are confined to their respective budget capitations. Consequently, EBT customers and Whole Foods are caught in a dilemma. For EBT customers, the affordability of organic products may detract from the Whole Foods unique shopping experience.
United States Department of Agriculture. [Online]. Electronic Benefit System. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/ on September 1, 2009.
United States Department of Agriculture. [Online]. Food Stamp Outreach Kit. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/outreach/pdfs/toolkit/office/USDA_offices_full.pdf#xml=http://126.96.36.199/texis/search/pdfhi.txt?query=FOOD+STAMPS&pr=FNS&prox=page&rorder=500&rprox=500&rdfreq=500&rwfreq=500&rlead=500&rdepth=0&sufs=0&order=r&mode=&opts=&cq=&sr=&id=4a8de57014 on September 1, 2009.
Whole Foods. [Online]. Whole Foods National Offices. Retrieved from http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/national.php on September 1, 2009.
CBS News. [Online]. From Six-Figures to Food Stamps. Retrieved from http://www.ask.com/bar?q=middle+class+families+and+food+stamps&page=1&qsrc=2106&ab=0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbsnews.com%2Fstories%2F2009%2F04%2F17%2Feveningnews%2Fmain4953007.shtml on September 1, 2009.
United States Department of Agriculture. [Online]. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/retailers/default.htm on September 1, 2009.
Johnson-Down ET AL. (1997). High Prevalence of Obesity in Low Income and Multiethnic Schoolchildren: A Diet and Physical Activity Assessment. The Journal of Nutrition Vol 127 (12); 2310-2315.