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Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm


The Pacific Northest Westest

Whole Foods is having trouble keeping the shelves full

by Jenise » Fri Jan 19, 2018 2:46 pm

Or so says this eater.com article:

Amazon’s grocery delivery service has seen a major boost following the retail giant’s acquisition of Whole Foods — but the grocer’s IRL stores seem to be having some issues.

Whole Foods stores are suffering inventory shortages, leading to empty shelves, according to several employees that spoke with Business Insider. The shortages are being attributed to a new ordering system the grocer introduced company-wide in early 2017. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in August 2017.)

Referred to as “order-to-shelf,” or OTS, Business Insider describes it as “a tightly controlled system designed to streamline and track product purchases, displays, storage, and sales.” Instead of keeping additional product in store stock rooms that can be used to replenish shelves, with OTS products are taken straight from delivery trucks to store shelves, bypassing the backroom altogether.

The system is intended to help the company cut costs and reduce food waste, and employees who spoke to BI says it’s been successful in that regard — but it also means stores are sometimes running out of staple products such as bananas, onions, or potatoes, leading to angry customers.

“On paper, things look good — our spoilage is in check, and I don’t have a lot of back stock. But I have never seen so many empty shelves in my store,” one store manager told BI.

Whole Foods isn’t the only big corporation adopting this approach to inventory: Fellow retail giant Target also recently implemented an OTS system, and some are speculating that order-to-shelf technology will be “the future of retail distribution.” Whole Foods executives praised its new ordering system on an earnings call last year, noting that it was reducing waste and dramatically “improving and helping our out-of-stocks” — though, anecdotally at least, it seems the grocer may now be struggling with the latter.

But if anyone can figure out the logistics of keeping stores stocked without wasting a ton of food it would seemingly be Amazon, which maintains gigantic warehouses full of inventory and ships hundreds of millions of packages each year.

I haven't noticed an empty shelf problem at our store. What they have is an empty store problem. Bellinghamsters just haven't taken to it. Into this store they put 5 regular checkout stands and separately three express checkouts with their own exit near the hot and cold ready food lines which was genius compared to other WF's I've been in. They even put 20 soup kettles. But the customers never showed up so none of the express lines and only three of the soup kettles have ever been used. The only part of the store that's profitable is the wood fired pizza bar where beer and wine are also available. The pizza IS good.

But even I, a fan of the Whole Foods concept for so long who initially tried to give them my grocery business even though they are the furthest grocery store in town from my home at the opposite end of the county. And the main problem is produce. We buy and consume a lot of produce, and not only has the store never delivered on the exotic variety I've always loved Whole Foods for, and freshness is a huge issue as well.

This story will sum it all up for you: the last time I as there I wanted green beans, and they had haricot verts in packages, the kind that are gassed for extended life. The first one I picked up was gross: inside you could see the beans were spoiling, lightly bathed in a milky looking moisture. I flagged down an apron-clad tall dweeb of a middle aged man. "These beans are rotten. You better get them off the shelf." He made the appropriate apologetic noises. There were only 13 packages on the display.

I finished my shopping then went back to produce for an onion or something, and saw that most of the beans had been removed for four or five remained. Wha-at? So I looked them over and they were from the same lot as the others and not quite as egregiously milky but still liquidy which meant that decay was well under way. They would smell if one opened the package. I took one and when I got to the cashier to check out, demanded to see the manager. I was asked why, I explained, and they assured me they'd pass on the message and I said no, we're going to have this out, because your produce sucks and the produce guy doesn't know what rot looks like. Another employee joined in trying to talk me down but I'd have none of it so they finally summoned the store manager who's name, I learned, was Otto. After a little wait, "Ah," said the clerk, "here comes Otto."

Otto was the tall dweeb. "YOU!" So he's like oh yeah I know what you're thinking but these weren't as bad as the others. So I said, "Not as milky/rotten perhaps but still rotTING. I can see it! Let's just open this package and find out who's right!" I ripped it open and the odor was unmistakable.

I put it under his nose and asked if he would feed those to his family. No. "They why are they still on the shelf? Why are you hoping a customer will buy them if they're not going to be pleased with the product when they get them home? I'm a longtime fan, lobbied hard to get a Whole Foods built here, I buy a lot of meat and wine and produce.and can afford any old thing my heart desires. I drive 22 miles to shop here. And when I get bad stuff here I return it, from moldy green beans to smelly sausages right out of the butcher's case. All part of me trying to help you keep your doors open. You're uncomfortable right now because I'm telling you what I think and other customers are listening. But at least I come back to tell you what you're doing wrong--you should be loving this because other people just don't come back at all. And I may have to become one of them. The loss of a customer like me will cost you a lot more than a few packages of green beans."

And of course he then said all the things a manager is supposed to say but it's clear that it won't change. And meanwhile, the Fred Meyer across the street? Jammed, all the time. People will put up with the crowds and the lousy parking situation in order to NOT have to go to Whole Foods.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Wild and Crazy Guy




Tue Mar 28, 2006 9:20 pm


Chapel Hill, NC

Re: Whole Foods is having trouble keeping the shelves full

by Rahsaan » Fri Jan 19, 2018 4:45 pm

I noticed this immediately after the amazon takeover (not hard to notice changes when you shop at WF 3-4 times a week as I do) and assumed it was related to some amazon efficiency system.

Although it is often quite blatant and far from subtle. The yogurt, orange juice, hummus sections (to name three things) all get emptied out pretty severely. Of course we're not talking starvation levels here, they still have food to sell. But whereas previously they always had shelves full of every brand and every style, now your favorite brand/style might not be available for a few days.

It's tough! But we're making do with the new normal.

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