Photo by Rick Friedman via Getty Images

Is the Amazon deal to blame?

Rebecca Firkser
January 22, 2018

If you’ve been to a Whole Foods in the past few months, odds are you’ve noticed something strange. More and more regularly, you may have started to find shelves of canned goods or vegetable displays looking bare. Many customers have pointed to Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods—and subsequent increase in shoppers as a result of lower prices—as a possible culprit. Whole Foods employees, however, says the problem goes back further, to a new stocking system instituted before the Amazon purchase.

According to Business Insider, who spoke with several Whole Foods employees who requested they be quoted anonymously, a system known as order-to-shelf, or OTS, is largely responsible for the empty shelves. Intended to reduce waste and clear out storage as well as cut costs, OTS makes it possible for employees to stock shelves directly from delivery trucks, typically without putting any product in stock rooms. According to an employee at Whole Foods in Sacramento, California who spoke to Business Insider, “the system is now set up to pretty much only have enough product to keep the shelf full and no extra.” Whole Foods apparently began implementing this system earlier this year, and employees noticed problems quickly.

“At my store, we are constantly running out of products in every department, including mine,” an assistant department manager at an Illinois Whole Foods (who preferred to stay anonymous) told Business Insider. "Regional and upper store management know about this. We all know we are losing sales and pissing off customers.”

Business Insider spoke with several other Whole Foods employees who all explained similar situations. An employee who works in the seafood department of another store explained that while he used to have his own freezer stocked with extra product, he now has to share one freezer with the meat department. Another said they’ve run out of potatoes and onions twice in one week, and that aisles can remain completely empty—much to customers’ exasperation.

Whole Foods shoppers may be annoyed that they can’t find what they want to buy in the store, but “It's not that we don't care—we do,” said the Illinois assistant manager. “But our hands are tied.” 

Apparently, after the implementing of OTS, some Whole Foods employees are even penalized if their stores are found to have too much product kept in stock rooms.

“It's frustrating as an employee and also as a shopper,” said the Sacramento employee.

Higher-ups at Whole Foods still have yet to address the issue. Apparently Business Insider and Delish reached out to Whole Foods for a comment, and have not received responses.

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