By Jake Sedlock, VP of Client Development


My wife calls me cheap. I say “thrifty” or “careful.” I can’t be the only father in America who grimaces every time I see a Whole Foods bag on the kitchen counter. Perhaps the Whole Foods executive committee finally heard my silent screams of agony when they decided to green-light a “lower-cost” Whole Foods concept? I just hope during the design phase they are thinking about me too, because the Whole Foods execs announced that the stores would be “hip,” “cool,” and “high-tech.”

Hark! The unmistakable marketeer’s siren call to millennials.

Whole Foods is in a pickle because the hip-but-costly chain can’t simply say they want their new stores to appeal to “people likely to buy groceries in stores” because it doesn’t play to Wall Street or reinforce their brand’s positioning. Both very relevant concerns. But designing for the marketing industry’s darling, the millennial segment, could be exclusionary, which is ironic because it appears Whole Foods seems to have realized it needs to be more inclusive.

To be successful, the aisles of New Junior Whole Foods Lite Millennial Edition can’t just be populated by app-obsessed “youngsters” attracted to accoutrement such as reclaimed wood floors, the hushed buzz of carefully aimed LED track lighting, and sleek, satin-black shopping carts.

NJWFLME must attract people like me as well, the Gen X/Boomer straddle generation (did I just coin a new segment?) and give me reasons to pull my car – a car that I own outright and is not part of a smartphone app car sharing consortium –  onto those freshly paved parking lots.

Creating an entirely new brand and shopping experience may seem drastic, but desperate times must be requiring desperate measures in the hallways of the Austin, TX Whole Foods HQ. Desperate times are clearly illustrated by data CivicScience has on Whole Foods that indicates a brand losing differentiation and strength. What’s surprising is how long it took to get to this point: they must have seen it coming for years.

I know this because CivicScience has been tracking consumer attitudes toward Whole Foods every day since 2012. Take a look at the trend line for both Adults 35 – 64 (top chart) and Millennials (defined here as 18 – 34, bottom chart) over the past 3+ years:


I don’t have the specific insights Whole Foods used to commit to their new significant strategic shift but the two charts above are clear harbingers of the loss of Whole Foods brand power, which is accompanied by loss of pricing power and in the end, foot traffic. Clearly, both groups, Millennials and Adults 35 – 64 (straddle generation!), are increasingly neutral about the brand and not nearly as favorable to the brand as they were when we started tracking them in 2012.

Clearly they have a problem with both segments – so why launch the “hip,” “cool,” and “high-tech” New Junior Whole Foods Lite Millennial Edition?  Did Whole Foods look closely at who is cooking and therefore probably buying groceries?

Think about the segment I alluded to above, “people likely to buy groceries in stores” when you review the next two charts. CivicScience asked the U.S. consumer how they usually prepare (or don’t prepare) dinner every night:

Adults 35-64 are much more likely to be cooking than millennials, so without a doubt, that group is going to be buying more groceries:


Now, another interesting tidbit that could tantalize an upstart grocer is how many people do each of these segments typically cook for? CivicScience questioned the U.S. consumer about the number of people each tend to cook for when they cook dinner:


Interesting… the data indicates Adults 34-65 would need heavy-duty bearings on their shopping carts for their extra grocery load, given they are more likely to cook for more than one.

So, should NJWFLME invest in micro-location-based shopping apps, screw some flat panel displays onto those sheik shopping carts and ensure the aisles are stocked with products tuned by the trendiest millennial taste makers? Clearly the data says they had better be attuned to what is hip, cool, and high tech across a much broader demographic than potentially the demographic group they’re paying close attention to.

And anyway, it won’t be long before those Millennials are reaching for their bifocals and wondering why all these grocery stores are so darn dark inside…