Business & Real Estate

Noticing a lot of empty shelf space at Whole Foods? You’re not alone

A new corporate-mandated inventory system has left shelves – sometimes even entire aisles – barren at Whole Foods stores across the U.S.

Customers and employees alike are troubled by food shortages at the organic grocer, caused primarily by cost-saving stocking procedures to which managers are strictly adhering, Business Insider reported this week.

The system is called “order-to-shelf,” or OTS, and involves taking products straight from delivery trucks to the aisles, Business Insider says. The intent of OTS is to cut costs and reduce wasted product, but the result is that stock runs out and is not quickly replaced, angering some customers.

A review of Whole Foods Market Inc. internal documents obtained by Business Insider also found rules preventing employees from covering up gaps with other inventory, keeping those shelves looking especially empty – and store managers can be penalized if they break this rule.

Photos posted by customers and media outlets have shown sparse shelves nationwide, including in populous cities like San Francisco.

Remaining anonymous, several Whole Foods employees and managers told Business Insider that OTS is hurting morale.

“The system is now set up to pretty much only have enough product to keep the shelf full and no extra,” a Sacramento Whole Foods employee told Business Insider.

These policies have been in place since before Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon last August, but higher demand since then may have worsened the problem, Business Insider suggests.

Forbes and The Washington Post also reported this month that Whole Foods may be moving to a system in which shelf and display space assigned to products will depend on vendor contributions, identified by Forbes’ headline as one of “old grocery’s most condemned practices.”

Forbes suggested this “pay-to-play” system is evidence of a more centralized system, with greater corporate control over individual stores and managers. Policies that were once store-level decisions, like stocking inventory, are now increasingly made at the corporate level.

“It’s not that we don’t care – we do. But our hands are tied,” an assistant manager from Illinois told Business Insider.

Whole Foods, an organic supermarket chain founded in 1980, was acquired by Amazon last August in a $13.7 billion deal. The acquisition dropped prices at the time, and helped Amazon’s internet food service, Amazon Fresh, grow 35 percent over the last four months of 2017, according to Finance Apprise.