Whole Foods is going great lengths to combat the “Whole Paycheck” narrative.

Despite its eco-friendly, “values-driven” approach to food servicing, the chain has long-faced a culturally bestowed reputation for being elitist, egotistical and most of all—expensive; however, in classic PR fashion, Whole Foods aims to regain control of the conversation by recasting its image into a far more positive light.

Its latest and greatest effort involves a new line of more (supposedly) budget-friendly stores: “365 by Whole Foods Market.”

The concept plans to offer high quality products at lower prices for an ideally broader audience. That said, the grocery giant apparently did its research.

With public push for more natural and organic products, one can’t deny the growing consumer demand. Listening to audiences and responding accordingly, Whole Foods has developed a means to meet the health-conscious needs of current and prospective shoppers alike, at prices they can more easily afford.

This especially rings true for Millennials, the “365″ concept’s primary target. Interestingly noted, Millennials are getting married later, thus living and cooking for themselves longer than past generations. Capitalizing on young, single-person households could capture a major new market share and provide opportunity to renovate the chain’s highly contested reputation.

365 by Whole Foods Market
The new concept’s logo – via Whole Foods Market

Stemming from the company’s “365 Everyday Value” brand, the stores will offer a “values-driven shopping experience” in a carefully crafted environment embodying fun, interactivity and convenience.

So nobody puts Whole Foods in the corner…except for maybe Whole Foods itself.

In July the company announced its first five “365” leases scheduled to open in 2016. Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood will house the inaugural location, however, the news has less than furthered PR pursuits so far.

Outrage erupted among LA locals when Whole Foods switched plans from opening the previously announced full-service store to a “365” flagship instead. For years residents have anticipated the chain’s arrival, claiming the area is in desperate need for a local high-end market that offers top-quality products. As observers have deemed the coming Silver Lake locale “Half Foods,” the new concept apparently won’t suffice.

Whole Foods’ effort to position itself as a responsive, community-conscious company in tune with consumer demand seems to have hit a significant snag, but we all know the organic aces are no strangers to scandal.

Masters of controversy since opening more than 30 years ago, the chain’s most recent ordeals include an investigation by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs into routine overcharging of pre-packaged foods, a lawsuit with PETA regarding allegedly dishonest labeling of “humane meat” and product fallout from sketchily launched “asparagus water” in California.

Despite perpetually treading the criticism waters, nothing seems to keep Whole Foods too deeply down. No matter the subject, the company doesn’t typically shy away from addressing each problem that comes to light. Whether the competition, media or publics themselves, letting others craft the conversation around your brand surrenders all management power and eliminates the mutual benefit of strategically sought after relationships.

Responsibility and transparency are two prevailing themes within Whole Foods’ communication approach. Maintaining a detailed online collection of corporately held values and media materials emphasizing the important roles of community, ethics and sustainability is no strategic accident. Providing said information helps form positive top-of-mind opinions among average consumers to counteract the otherwise negative attention.

Complicated but necessary, the chain’s brand management mission has never been more critical.

Specialty status no more—the once-destination for all things organic, vegan and otherwise virtually impossible to find has never faced such fierce mainstream competition. As big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Aldi have recently debuted their own organic product lines, Whole Foods naturally has to upgrade its competitive pricing. Costco additionally replaced it last year as the largest organic grocer, so rehabilitating public perception is the company’s smartest move.

Stepping up its game to retain the organic reign, Whole Foods’ fate is certainly one to be determined.

(Feature Image via Whole Foods Market and The Chicago Sun-Times)

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