Whole Foods from its outset was an aspirational and wonderful idea.

Premised on the vision that people would pay a premium for natural and organic products, largely local in origin within an environment where the brands themselves were front and center, connecting directly to the customers.

Happy, healthy shopping to 80s hits in an upscale supermarket Disneyland of sorts.

It succeeded wildly as a brand concept, as well as a successful launch pad for local brands, funding and all.

It failed solidly as a business model as the cost of product acquisition and distribution, the cost to local brands on top of the razor thin grocery model simply didn’t work at scale. Likewise, the Amazon acquisition.

As a customer and previously a vendor, I loved the Whole Foods brand and promise while fully cognizant of the economic foibles and problems inherent in the model itself. I loved it in spite of these issues as an idea that was important to work towards.

With the Amazon acquisition, I was optimistic. Hopeful that Amazon would figure out how to reinvent the paradigm while keeping the vision intact.

I’ve been carefully watching the changes at the store level.

First obscure, low-volume products quickly moved off the shelves often available at lower prices through online next-day Prime delivery through Amazon. Smart change.

Then the newly installed Amazon inventory system wreaked havoc on the shelves of my local store with out of stock SKUs and  less and less product choice. Surprising and counter intuitive from a company like Amazon.

And most telling, the massively growing Whole Foods 365 brand moving cross categories from paper towels to sundries, to cold press juices, t0 frozen ‘responsibly farmed shrimp’ then to dairy.

It’s the expansion of the 365 brand bolstered by the capital from Amazon that had the most promise even though it meant the sacrifice of local artisanal brands. They could in theory produce some things more naturally, more cost effective at scale and push the savings back to the customer.

Step back for a moment to their brand promise to put this in context.

Organic and fair-trade products to customers at market prices with respect for the growers while not forsaking the health benefits of its products to its customers. That’s the core who they are.

I’ll admit that without upending the grocery supply chain and crop production completely, it’s really challenging to scale natural production to feed a national chain, at price points that drive corporate peofits and lower prices to the customer.

I’ve blogged on my hope (here and here) that through efficiencies such as owning the arcane high-cost distribution systems and by scaling organic production through ownership of the crops, they could accomplish this.

All possible with reserves of capital and logistical expertise, which Amazon has in spades.

Enter the recent launch of the 365 industrialized egg line from Whole Foods.

This is possibly the first whisper of the end of the old Whole Foods brand promise, as this product and positioning is little more than an industrialized farming product wrapped in the company’s brand. Something out of a Shoprite, nothing like what Whole Foods has done prior. Not organic, nor free range. Nowhere on their own scale of organic or humane production of animal goods.

This line is being sold loudly as the house brand and I think indicative that capitalizing natural food sources to cut costs is simply not working and no longer the company strategy. Otherwise why the shift?

This truly odd launch under the 365 brand is an indicator that all is not rosy in the Whole Foods plan for brand integrity, healthy food and profits alike.

I’m just sorely disappointed in Whole Foods lack of imagination and for loosing sight of the end game from a brand promise point of view.

There are many companies trying to change the game in our food supply. Rethinking hyper local distribution to cut out the massive chains. Vertical farming in warehouses. Marketplaces to increase supply, simplify access and cut costs at every stage in the supply chain.

If with Amazon’s limitless capital, supernatural logistics and propensity for playing the long-game, they can’t figure out how to bring more natural food, fostering consumer health and awareness to more people at lower costs—well–someone else will have to.

I believe that if you have the imagination and the vision. A brand and a community. The technological will. And a long-term patient strategy and capital, you indeed can reimagine and revitalize the food supply chain. And profit enormously from it.

You can scale organic agriculture and humane farming for the health of the customers. You remove the multiple steps of distribution and pour the profits back to the company and customers where they belong. And you can fund new methods of farming to feed a changed world with increased and different demands.

I am a big believer in Amazon and the history of their acquisitions prior to Amazon, made me think they would be patient, flexible and imaginative enough to reimagine this.

Today they are not.

And there is no model that is not a fail unless all–including corporate profit, third-party vendor margins and us as health conscious consumers–win together.

Food (literally) for thought.