Whole Foods Deals with Ramadan Controversy
Imagine a grocery store running a promotion for Matzoh leading up to the Passover season without mentioning the holiday. How about a sale on chocolate bunnies without a mention of Easter? So, why would a retailer launching a line of halal food products at the same time as Ramadan, not include mention of the month-long holiday in store signage?
Okay, so the last question was rhetorical, but the answer became public when an internal memo from one of Whole Foods’ divisions was obtained and published by the Houston Press.
The first part of the memo was company-wide: "We recently introduced a line of frozen products in Grocery that are Halal certified (meet Muslim dietary laws) called Saffron Road. With the introduction of this line company wide, and the beginning of Ramadan last week, we posted a product giveaway on the Whole Story blog (on July 31) to generate awareness and interest in the products. Some people have misinterpreted the blog post to mean we are celebrating or promoting Ramadan in our stores. The misinterpretation has generated some negative feedback from a small segment of vocal and angry consumers and bloggers."
The story became sensationalized when the Houston Press published an added note from Whole Foods’ Southwest division: "While we want to continue with the program, it is probably best that we don’t specifically call out or ‘promote’ Ramadan… We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered ‘celebrating or promoting’ Ramadan."
The published memo spread across the internet with (personal opinion) Islamaphobes probably taking solace in the belief they had achieved a small victory with Whole Foods pulling Ramadan signs from its stores. On the other hand, Muslims and those promoting religious freedom would be obviously concerned that the chain would so easily cave to a small group of people with extreme beliefs.
To try and set the record straight on the whole matter, an unidentified spokesperson for Whole Foods told CNN, "(We) never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs at all. We have 12 different operating regions and one region reacted by sending out directions to promote halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments."
- What is Ramadan? – About.com
- Whole Foods vs. Ramadan: The Original Email – Houston Press
- Whole Foods: ‘We Should Not Highlight Ramadan’ – Houston Press
- Whole Foods denies canceling Ramadan promotion – CNN
Discussion Questions: What do you make of Whole Foods’ reaction to “negative feedback from a small segment of vocal and angry consumers and bloggers” concerning the launch of its Saffron Road line? How should it approach marketing and merchandising halal foods for future Islamic holidays?