December 31, 2007

Whole Foods Miami; Jorge Drops the Ball AGAIN

This isn't the first time I've written about the Whole Foods in Miami. Overall, it's a nice place to shop; the staff is friendly and courteous and for the most part, helpful.

But not always as helpful as the could or should be, at least at the management level. Sure, they're polite. They look you in the eye, and promise to "address the situation."

They just don't actually DO anything.

In my review of their opening, I did have one major complaint:
...they have a shelf labeled "WHEAT ALTERNATIVES." They had a shelf of breads from Sami's Bakery, but beware!! Two of the choices actually are wheat breads. They shouldn't be in that section at all, and I've mentioned it to someone stocking the shelf last week, but no change has been made. Hopefully, other people with food allergies know enough to read the labels, but if they don't realize that Sami's isn't exclusively a GF vendor, there could be serious consequences.
In fact, at the bottom of that review, there's an update:
I emailed the store manager, and the problems with the WHEAT ALTERNATIVE shelf have finally been addressed.
And why did I think that? Because I received this email in response to my complaint about that shelf:

Hi Christopher,
Thank you for your detailed email. You are absolutely right with your observations. I will address all your concerns. Please continue to communicate any other concerns.
Jorge Sosa
ASTL WFM Coral Gables
Of course, those concerns were not addressed; wheat-bearing breads kept finding their way to the wheat-alternative shelf. I'd mention it to the person behind the bakery counter, who would vaguely nod and look away, or the stock person, who would promise to ask his supervisor. Finally, I asked to see the store manager.

What I got was Jorge.

Jorge is a pleasant enough guy. He came right over, and agreed that the item clearly didn't belong on the shelf. He even asked the stock person why the stuff was there, and the stock guy replied that Sami's made wheat free products. They do; but they don't make EXCLUSIVELY wheat-free products, any more than Coca-Cola makes EXCLUSIVELY sugar free soda. Jorge concluded that Brooke, the bakery manager, just lumped all the Sami's products together, assuming they were all wheat-alternative. Honest mistake.

I pointed out that the problem wasn't so much that they were keeping all the products together; the problem was that they were all together in a section dedicated to products that didn't contain wheat, an allergen that affects a significant portion of the population. People should read labels, but most folks will trust Whole Foods to label its foods correctly. And if they do that here, that will lead to hives, nasal congestion, airway congestion, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and joint pain. It's not pleasant to have a wheat allergy.

He promised - AGAIN - that it would be addressed, and that he'd discuss it with Brooke, and that they'd remind staff not to make assumptions regarding brand and food allergies.

I saw no reason not to believe Jorge; he said he understood how serious food allergies were, and that he'd address the problem.

But he didn't. The problem wasn't addressed, it still hasn't been addressed.

I was in there today, and there were the offending loaves, lo-carb wheat bread mixed in with the "Wheat Alternative" products. So I went to the Costumer Service desk, and in short order I was talking to Jorge again.
"Oh, yes," he said. "I remember you. We talked about this before. I'll take care of this."
"Great," I said. "I'll wait."
That stopped him. "What?"
"I'll wait here while you fix it. You can pull the loaves off the shelf, or take down the sign; whatever."
This flummoxed him. "I'm going to address it. I'll meet with Brooke and take care of it."
I pointed out that that is what he told me LAST time, and here we are.
"I did address your problem; I met with Brooke and took care of it." he repeated
"Obviously not," I replied, "because here we are, and there it is."
"I'm sorry sir, but I will take care of it." Very polite, but firm.
"Great," I said. "I will watch you do it, and we can all sleep tonight."
"I'm not going to fix it NOW; we have a system."

Just so you know, we're talking about a dozen loaves of bread; he could have dumped them into a grocery cart and been done with it. That's all I was expecting. A show of faith on his part. But I didn't get it.
"Jorge," I said as patiently as I could, "you've had MONTHS to address it, and you haven't. MONTHS. Does somebody have to get sick before you'll take care of this?"

"No, I don't want anyone to get sick! I will take care of it"

"Great! So fix it. I'll wait, so I know that it's been done."

"Not right now - but I will address it. Is there anything else I can do for you?" his eyes are glazing over, and he's starting to sweat.

"After someone ends up in an emergency room? You are telling me you'd rather let people get sick than actually take care of this problem."

"No, I'm not saying that! I will address it, but not now! Is there something else?" his smile is forced. I'm pretty sure he was wondering if he could have security throw me out.

The thing is, there was absolutely NO reason for Jorge not to fix it right then. What if it had been rotten meat, or moldy produce? The effect is exactly the same; the person who consumes it gets sick. All I was asking was for him to move a few loaves of wheat bread off of the "wheat alternatives" shelf. And he would not do it.

Now I have to wonder, would he pull that rotten meat? I'm not so sure, now. And now I have to wonder what OTHER products are mis-labeled in the store; are all those products REALLY organic? What about the vegan items? Customers trust that their grocers are putting the right products on the right shelves.

With a store like Whole Foods, it's an entirely greater area of responsibility; we make an effort to go out of our way to Whole Foods, because we are trying to lead healthier lives. Sometimes, it's a matter of choice; we feel that "organic" products are healthier, or we're seeking a wider variety of choices to support a diet that meets a moral imperative. And many of us go there because we have special dietary needs that are not met at main-stream markets.

Jorge dropped the customer service ball. And he was stupid about it; having admitted that this was a repeat of a problem that he'd promised I wouldn't see again, he utterly failed to resolve it; not only to MY satisfaction, but to any reasonable standard of service.

It's unacceptable for a manager to fail so miserably at customer service. The fact that he could have fixed the problem inside of two minutes with minimal effort only underscores his utter lack of commitment to meeting his customer's needs.

I accepted his promise that he would "address" the issue on two separate occasions. Since the problem wasn't solved, it was time for Jorge to step up his game. Instead, he made the exact same empty promises, KNOWING that he'd already broken them.

That makes Jorge worse than merely incompetent; that makes him a liar. Either he lied when he told me that he'd addressed it earlier, or he's lying to me now. Or he's lying about understanding the problem.

The bottom line is that Jorge had a chance to prevent people from getting sick, and he chose not to do it. He apparently thinks it's better to risk people's health and well-being than to actually do his job. Maybe he didn't want to offend Brooke; maybe he thought that the store's bureaucracy was more important than the health of his customers. By doing nothing, by putting it off until a staff meeting sometime in the future, he has put his customers at risk of illness, and that's unacceptable.

I find it hard to believe that Whole Foods is a health store that doesn't give a crap about your actual health.

Happy New Year; hope you don't spend it over the toilet. Which is more than I can say for Jorge Sosa.


  1. This article is spot on. I worked at a whole foods in canada for a year and a half, and interestingly enough, Jorge Sosa was transferred to our store at the end of my time there. This was no coincidence, as within three weeks of his arrival, long time staff and managers were walking out in spades. I can promise you that the company has a policy of appeasing customers to their faces, then completely forgetting about them. The same goes for staff. Numerous times I've seen customers in tears after eating a chicken wrap labeled 'vegetarian wrap.' The response; seek out a manager who is vegetarian to placate the customer, offer a gift certificate, and not talk to the department involved, nor make any effort to actually remedy the situation. Same for a customer finding a chuck of glass in a piece of fish: apology, gift certificate, forgotten.

    Jorge Sosa, allowed a well loved coworker of mine, with many years of seniority (coincidence?) to be brutally interrogated by a stranger from the head office, then suspended while they investigated her excessive use of the 'void' button. Three days later she was fired.

    That was my last straw. I quit in protest. I owed them nothing, and had no ethical reason to give two weeks notice, but I did given the promise of an exit interview in which I could air my grievances. I finished my two weeks, quietly and politely, and was not granted any oportunity to speak with anyone. I left Jorge and the four ASTL's with a two page letter of my grievances, two which only one ASTL responded with 'don't you think you exaggerated a little?'

    Whole Foods could have been a great company with some solid ethical and quality standards. Sadly, they have gone the path of Walmart and are cut throats who work only for a dollar and don't care about staff, and don't care about solutions and certainly don't care about the quality of what you're buying. As long as they've got your money, they don't give a damn about you.

  2. I have had the same experience with Jorge Sosa. He is a bully, and is frankly damaging this company. My experience with Sosa has been exactly the same as those expressed above. His entire culture of leadership is flawed, autocratic, and useless. His business model is based on superficiality over content. He as personally ostracized a number of colleagues who have subsequently left the company in disgust. It is a testament to how poorly the company is run that someone like Sosa is able to rise through the ranks despite his lack of vision, incompetence, substance or interest in the employees who are the pillars upon which retail business operates.