Whole Foods is one of the best-known food stores in America, and has been nothing short of revolutionary in its approach to healthy and organic foods. Its private label line, 365 Everyday Value, is one of the keys to its success, but we bet that there’s a lot you don’t know about this line of hundreds of products.
The plastic your 365 product is most likely packaged in is called Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PETE. It’s in the polyester family, and more than seven million tons of the stuff is recycled each year. It’s one of the most common recyclable materials, and all 365 products are labeled with the appropriate recycle number.
As at Trader Joe’s, there’s a strenuous review process at Whole Foods to make sure that a potential new private label item is up to par, and every day hundreds of products are considered, according to the company. “We evaluate attributes like value, quality, taste and convenience when we make the decision to accept or discontinue a product,” the company says.
Whole Foods’ website has a whole page dedicated to their olive oils, which are products of Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and the U.S., and are certified by the North American Olive Oil Association. All the oils are 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil, and all facilities that produce the 365 olive oil get frequent visits from Whole Foods’ buyers and food safety specialists. There’s a lot of fraudulent olive oil out there, but 365’s is the real deal.
In 1998, the state of California commissioned an independent laboratory to test for the presence of a carcinogenic petrochemical called 1,4-Dioxane in body care products from Whole Foods and several other brands, and sued Whole Foods after it discovered that products including 365 dish liquid and shampoo contained the chemical in excess of the legal limit, 20 parts per million. While Whole Foods countered that the investigation “contained inaccuracies,” it’s unclear what the final outcome of the lawsuit was.
According to MarketWatch, the top 365 Everyday Value sellers (in ascending order) are grade AA unsalted butter, organic boneless skinless chicken breasts, organic two percent reduced fat milk, grade B 100 percent maple syrup, organic grade AA unsalted butter, organic wild blueberries, organic whole milk, and at number one, Mediterranean blend 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil.
According to The Cornucopia Institute, which investigates agricultural and food issues, “Whole Foods has been diligent in their efforts to secure a source for their organic milk that is of high integrity and comes from family farmers, not industrial-scale factory-farms where most of their competitors (Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart, Costco, among others) are procuring all or some of their ‘organic’ milk.” According to Whole Foods, “the milk is produced and distributed regionally throughout the United States as close as possible to the communities in which it is sold. It comes from a cooperative of organic family farmers dedicated to pasture-based dairy production and to preserving and expanding family farming as a way of life and a viable system of production.”
Last year, Consumer Reports noticed that just about all brands of plain yogurt contains between five and 10 grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving, Whole Foods 365’s plain nonfat Greek yogurt only contained two. So they analyzed the product and discovered that it in fact contained an average of 11.4 grams of sugar per serving, more than five times the amount indicated on the label! “We are working with our vendor to understand the testing results you have provided,” Whole Foods responded. “They are not consistent with testing results we have relied upon from reputable third-party labs. We take this issue seriously and are investigating the matter, and will of course take corrective action if any is warranted.” The discovery led to a class-action lawsuit, and the product has been removed from store shelves while the investigation is ongoing.
In 2010, an ABC affiliate in Washington aired an “exposé” claiming that if a Whole Foods 365 Organic product is made in China, it can’t be trusted for actually being organic because organic standards are more lax there. Whole Foods Organic Certification Coordinator Joe Dickson called the segment “totally misleading,” claiming that “organic products from China can absolutely be certified organic to the exact same standard as domestic products.”
In his groundbreaking book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food activist Michael Pollan takes issue with Whole Foods’ 365 Organic line, which he calls “Industrialized Organic,” claiming that it doesn’t allow the little guys to compete on the same stage. “I am not sure if merely because of our size and success Whole Foods Market deserves the pejorative label ‘Big Organic’ or ‘Industrial Organic,’ or even to be linked to those categories,” CEO John Mackey countered. “I would argue instead that organic agriculture owes much of its growth and success over the past 20 years to Whole Foods Market’s successful growth and commitment to organic.” Pollan struck back: “Surely we can recognize all these important gains without turning a blind eye to the costs: the sacrifice of small farmers and of some of the founding principles of organic farming.” And the debate still rages on, nearly 10 years later.