Why Whole Foods is doing its first national ad campaign

Organic produce and budget shopping don’t go hand-in-hand, at least as far as Whole Foods’ reputation is concerned. The organic grocer has become notorious for burning a hole in people’s pockets, but now it wants to change the dialog. Last week, the 35-year-old company rolled out its first-ever national ad campaign — a series of television and print ads — in an attempt to combat sagging sales and stiffening competition.

The campaign has a “values matter” tagline, and is aimed at all its customers that are health-conscious and want to know more about where their food is sourced from– something the company says it has done for decades, just not in advertising.

Jeannine D’Addario, Whole Foods global vp for communications, has been at the helm of this campaign, by creative agency Partners & Spade, which is aimed at health-conscious customers who want to know more about where their food comes from. Excerpts:

Why this national campaign and why now?
As we continue to grow and enter new markets — we’re at 399 stores today, we’ll be heading onto 400 in just about a week’s time and we continue to expand towards our goal of 1,200 — we wanted to introduce the brand more broadly to consumers as we continue that growth trajectory. And the other is that we’ve been telling our story both regionally and locally, and relatively quietly for 35 years, as we pioneered the natural and organic food industry. We believe that consumers are hungrier than ever before for information on where their food comes from and how it impacts their health.Jeannine D'Addario_headshot

You’ve got competitors like Walmart, though, that are getting into the organic food business and charging less. Are you feeling the heat?
Truthfully, we’re excited to have competition in the natural and organic food space. We think that’s good for everybody, because it means that more people have access to healthy food. The fact of the matter is that this is what we do, and we do it better than anybody. The campaign comes on the heels of real hard work to reduce our overall expenses throughout our stores, so we can pass along savings to shoppers.

Does “Whole Paycheck,” as the joke goes, a brand problem?
I don’t think there’s a brand problem at all that needed to be fixed. The campaign is really about showing that value is inseparable from values — that the two go hand-in-hand. And the perception of Whole Foods as “whole paycheck” — other than that it continues to be part of the vernacular — it really is a thing of the past.

Is this also a bid for millennials who are big on transparency in food?
We know that consumers, not just millennials, want to know where their food comes from and probably now more than ever before. And we think that consumers and customers will enjoy having a more in-depth view of Whole Foods’ market standards and our suppliers. We’ve been doing this for 35 years, it’s not new to us — talking about it is. But we’re excited to share these really true, impactful stories about those who work hard to provide food that meets our demanding standards. That works for millennials, as well as for Boomers and for Gen-Xers or anybody who is interested in eating healthy as well as knowing where their food comes from.

Talk about your in-store digital efforts.
We have some early adopter customers who really want to utilize digital assets to be able to access our business. We’ve rolled out pick-up and delivery with Instacart over the last few months and that’ll continue to grow and scale. We were the first grocer to be able to accept Apple Pay and in fact Apple identified us in its September keynote.

You came on board from from Stanford Children’s Health, and Disney before that. What are the similarities in challenges there?
I look at the two as being two cornerstones of my three-legged stool here. Disney is all about great brand experience, wonderful storytelling and amazing customer service. That is very much the Whole Foods model as well — amazing stories, great products and great in-store customer experiences. With Stanford, my work there was really very mission-driven. It was round finding solutions to complex medical issues and providing the absolute best care for families of children with complex medical issues. Not that healthcare and Whole Foods are the same, but the mission around health and healthy eating, healthy food and great supplier sourcing and environmental standards is very much mission-driven.

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