Whole Foods: The low price leader?

The Bloomberg group did a recent “market basket” study of grocers in Manhattan, and found that Whole Foods is offering lower prices than competitors like Gristedes and Food Emporium. The discussion topic at RetailWire centered on Whole Foods’ value perception and whether this can become a sustainable advantage. My opinion is, “Be careful what you wish for” if it compromises your brand:

Creating a value perception in Manhattan (where price expectations are high) may be easier than on a nationwide basis. The “Whole Paycheck” image dogs Whole Foods across the country, even as shoppers recognize that it offers higher-quality or more specialized goods than you will find at a midtier grocer or discounter like Walmart. But the study raises two key questions:

1. Is Whole Foods’ brand image based on price in the first place?
2. Given the amount of exclusive offerings in a typical Whole Foods store, is the Bloomberg comparison really “apples-to-apples”? (So to speak…)

It’s a tricky balancing act to combat a perception of high pricing without compromising the company’s reputation for quality and uniqueness.

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