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Empty Shelves Drive Boston Shoppers Away From Whole Foods


The pomegranate pyramids at Whole Foods have fallen, and shoppers are not sure if they will ever get back up.

Boston-area Whole Foods customer complaints have surged in recent weeks due to food shortages and empty shelves. The logistical problems predate Amazon acquiring the company and are part of the reason why the grocer was for sale in the first place, the Boston Globe reports.

“Amazon does not understand the details involved in fresh food retail,” Strategic Resource Group retail analyst Burt Flickinger told the Globe. “This is going to be Amazon’s retail version of Vietnam; it’s going to take three to five years to fix and at a really, really high cost.”

While many Boston grocery stores like Wegmans, Shaws/Star Market and BJ’s Wholesale operate internal food distribution operations, Whole Foods relies on outside company United Natural Foods Inc. for most of its inventory. The companies with internal distribution have made investments to make sure food arrives fresh, but Whole Foods, post-Amazon, has been focused on lowering prices. 

Whole Foods’ inventory management system is known as order-to-shelf, and the idea is to take food directly from the delivery truck to shelves. Busier weekends mean food runs out sooner, and Boston’s recent inclement weather meant it took even longer to restock shelves. 

Kathy Goodfriend, a Newton Whole Foods shopper, told the Globe the store’s appeal has been aesthetics like pomegranate pyramids and geometric displays of grapefruits. Recent trips were notable more for an out-of-stock meat counter and decrepit-looking produce than fruit architecture, she said.

Shoppers from Melrose to Plainville have expressed their grief at empty shelves, and some are finding Market Basket to be a solution for stocked, organic food at a lower price. But Melrose’s Janet Rutan seems surprised Amazon, the last-mile leader, is letting the problem persist. 

“If anyone knows how to do inventory, it’s Amazon,” Rutan said.

Related Topics: Whole Foods, Amazon Whole Foods