Don’t Forget Your Umbrella: Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods

So, Amazon bought Whole Foods in a 13.7 billion dollar acquisition. Not really a big deal considering the market cap of Amazon pre-acquisition was $475 billion. Nor is it surprising, as they are up 31.47% so far this year (9/14). Umbrella corporations are scary, though, and what does it mean for another one to have its hands in our food?

As was promised, in the first week after the acquisition, prices dropped between 20% and 43% on a lot of the produce and on store brand “365 Everyday Value” products. And with Whole foods seeing a 20 – 35% increase in foot traffic, according to Foursquare, clearly people are reacting. What does this mean to consumers, and what are the ramifications for local grocers?

I’m an avid patron of the North Main Street Whole Foods in Providence, and I live a block away from a weekly farmers market. After the acquisition, I did my normal grocery shopping at both places. The prices were lower than normal in the produce isle at Whole Foods (avocado prices dropped by nearly one-third!), and groceries for three adults totaled about $160 — about $30 cheaper than normal, given that we eat mostly produce in my household.

Then a funny thing happened. Farmers market day rolled around and we spent more money. Knowing we would be spending less on our staple shopping allowed us to spend more on the local stuff we don’t like to buy from the green giant. And we weren’t the only ones; the two farmers markets we went to seemed to be busier than normal. Short term, the change seems to being doing some good on the local front. Hopefully the cheaper prices will allow lower income families to afford more organic and natural foods from places like Whole Foods.

But wait, there is a twist. With two more new natural food stores opening soon in Providence, will this change matter? As a foodie state, we like to have options. Will a more localized version of the big box brand create even more of a fair market as local shops try to remain relevant in the face of Amazon’s future plans? And what does Amazon have in store with rumors of it’s “Prime Now” gaining traction? Will we soon be able to have WF groceries delivered to us like pizza and Chinese? It may be too soon to tell what will happen in the long run. But in the meantime, avocados are cheaper and that means more guac for everybody!

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