Advertisement
Opinion

Op-Ed: Whole Foods 365: Proof that millennials are as susceptible to consumer manipulation as everyone else

New 365 by Whole Foods Market opens in Silver Lake
Shoppers descend on the new 365 by Whole Foods Market during the grocery store’s grand opening in Silver Lake on May 25.
(Los Angeles Times)

As a Middle-Class White Millennial™, I am drawn to Millennial Talk. Like many of my generation, I tend to perk up whenever the word — used in excess to define young people — gets thrown around, especially in major cultural conversations, and especially in suspicious contexts.

Which should explain my interest in the very first 365 by Whole Foods in my neighborhood, Silver Lake — a grocery, I’ve been told, and told, and told, for millennials. Not Gen Xers, or boomers. That sweet, sweet twenty-something demo. Because of course our food needs are as unique as we are, and it’s pretty absurd that, until now, we’ve been forced to stock our refrigerators in stores designed for old people.

To recap for those who somehow missed the media hype, 365 — which finally replaced the shuttered Ralph’s on Glendale Boulevard last week — is the national grocery chain’s attempt to reach a younger, less financially sound generation by selling them food that’s slightly less expensive than what they might find at the original Whole Foods. With 365, Whole Foods hopes to capitalize on the student-loan-saddled bourgeoisie (you know, the people who can swing some organic produce but aren’t champing at the bit for a $6 asparagus water) while still keeping the rabble clear of its highest-quality aisles.

Join the conversation on Facebook >>

Advertisement

But 365 is not just about appealing to millennials through our wallets — it’s about capturing our hearts, too, by revolutionizing the food-buying experience...somehow? Anyway, this flashy gimmick certainly isn’t here to profit from an already-gentrified, upwardly mobile yuppie community and help drive up rent prices for low-income immigrant families who have been here for decades!

I had to investigate. So last weekend, I girded my loins and waded into the branding quicksand that is Whole Foods 365.

This urban, middle-class shopper cruised the polished aisles to the dulcet tones of the Smiths, Beck, and other irritatingly focus-grouped music.

This urban, middle-class shopper cruised the polished aisles to the dulcet tones of the Smiths, Beck, and other irritatingly focus-grouped music. The $2.50 (!) boxes of blueberries at the entrance were a cheap shot, obviously placed in my path to melt my icy, cynical exterior. Perhaps it was the blueberries that bewitched me into paying $4 for bad iced coffee at the café inside to sip gingerly as I wandered — seemingly aimlessly, but more likely along a path informed by mountains of meticulous socio-psychological research, to ensure I lived up to my buying potential.

Advertisement

The store was brighter than the Vons on Alvarado or the aforementioned near-windowless Trader Joe’s on Hyperion, which is admittedly nice, in a mental-health sort of way. Its prices, though, were hardly jaw-dropping by comparison.

The parking lot was as chaotic as you’d expect on the opening weekend of a hotly anticipated new business. Which is to say, even worse than the notorious Trader Joe’s traffic jam around the corner. And the interior décor was what you’d expect from the test tube baby of a Costco and an Apple store: Sleek. Spacious. Filled with vegetables and iPads (more on that later).

As I perused the fancy-cheese fridge (only one type of Brie?! Congrats, Whole Foods, you’re really slumming it now), I was reminded of a shopper interviewed in a previous report who dared besmirch Trader Joe’s by claiming its products were inferior to 365’s. There’s simply no way to prove this in California, where even our discount produce beats most of the country’s for quality. Furthermore, it’s heresy — how dare you, when Trader Joe’s has sustained us plebes for decades! With nary a millennial-focused Twitter campaign!

That said, I must also begrudgingly report: the UPC-sticker-printing iPads in the produce section — intended to expedite the checkout process by allowing shoppers to weigh and price their heirloom seaweed — were genuinely efficient and, to my disgust, wholly satisfying. I (resentfully) took pleasure in collecting perfectly ripe peaches and tomatoes and knowing exactly how much I’d pay for each. And there was something intoxicatingly convenient about the rows of store-brand, single-serving items like fruit salad and kombucha neatly arranged along the checkout line.

If Whole Foods’ goal was to remind moderately affluent young people that they are, indeed, just as easily quantified and manipulated as everyone else, then ugh, fine, I’ll admit it: I’m a hypocritical millennial cliché, and 365 is kind of...nice.

Devon Maloney is a culture journalist and native Angeleno.

MORE FROM OPINION

Advertisement

There’s no justification — yet — to delay the summer Olympic Games because of Zika

Europe’s well-meaning but heavy-handed move against jihadist propaganda

Payday loans are often a last resort for the poor. That doesn’t mean they should be exploitative

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinionand Facebook


Newsletter
Get our weekly Opinion newsletter
Advertisement