Whole Foods botches its new vegan/vegetarian labels

22 Feb

How hard was this. Really. You’re Whole Foods. Shouldn’t you know the difference between vegan and vegetarian? I’m not talking about the employees — oh wait, sorry, “team members” — who can vary from super knowledgeable to super ignorant. I’m talking about the people whose job it was to come up with new labeling for Whole Foods pre-packaged foods. And yet they completely screwed it up. In their attempt to use symbols to let people know which items are vegan and which are vegetarian, they’ve actually made things worse.



The initial problem is the symbols themselves. Here’s the first one: VEG. That’s right, they decided the best way to distinguish between a vegan item and a vegetarian one was to use the three letters that begin both words. But I suppose, whichever one this might be, the other one will be clear, and that by process of elimination I’ll realize which one VEG stands for. So the other symbol they’re using is… VN. Yup, the first and last letters of each word.



But it gets worse. (You know I don’t tell stories unless they have a but it gets worse part.) And the way it gets worse is that NEITHER OF THESE ITEMS IS VEGAN:

The VN orzo "contains milk" so "VEG" can't mean vegan.

The VN orzo “contains milk” so “VN” can’t mean vegan.


The "VEG" dip contains eggs AND milk (AND honey) so "VEG" can't mean vegan.

The VEG dip contains eggs AND milk so “VEG” can’t mean vegan.

Could I have been mistaken in my assumption that at least one of these abbreviations was supposed to mean “vegan”? Is it possible that VN stands for Gluten-Free? Or that VEG means there’s no nuts? Because how else to explain this?

And did you ever try to contact Whole Foods to tell them about a problem? Ha! Their website is set up so that you can only send your complaint/compliment to a local store. You can’t send a complaint to a national customer service center, even though one exists, at their corporate headquarters in Austin. The problem though, is that the local stores NEVER respond to your email. Not unless you sleuth out the number for the corporate headquarters, get the switchboard to transfer you to their customer service center, and then mention that the local store never responded. Then about an hour later you get an email from the local store manager — sorry, “team leader” — pretending that they just got your email a minute ago and answered it rather than a week ago and ignored it.

And certainly don’t bother sending an email to the head honcho John Mackey. “Mr. Mackey automatically forwards any emails he receives to customer service.” Well, of course. Why would he ever read an email from a customer let alone respond to one. Only an idiot like Steve Jobs would have done something like that!

But maybe I’ll try to contact them anyway, because I’ve got a solution. Stick a “T” in your vegetarian abbreviation, like VGT, or VTN, you know, BECAUSE THERE’S NO “T” IN VEGAN. That way people can tell the two apart, you know, ASSUMING WHOLE FOODS TAKES THE MILK OUT OF THE ONE THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE VEGAN.

Not that the person who came up with this new secret code will do anything about it. Because I’m starting to think VEG stands for VEGETATIVE STATE.

7 Responses to “Whole Foods botches its new vegan/vegetarian labels”

  1. Vicki February 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Perhaps someone on the store level will notify the corporate office if every vegan who reads your blog goes into their local Whole Foods (if there is one in their area) and asks for the “team leader” and complains about this issue. I wish I could afford to shop at Whole Foods, but I can’t. Even if I could, it would be roughly a 26-27 mile round trip for me. But, I agree that Whole Foods really needs to get their act together on this. Wouldn’t it be great if all of the big supermarket chains did the same? It seems I spend most of my time at the grocery store reading labels.

  2. Vivi February 23, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    HAHA. Bit harsh there, as another reader mentioned, we spend lots of time reading labels. I don’t trust anything that claims to be vegan. Wholefoods should have known better! As far as the emailing goes, I wouldn’t expect a reply from any company in less than two weeks. They happen to be… well… bombarded with people’s pitiful crisis 24/7. I think their mistake is halarious and I’m sure they’re working on resolving it.

  3. bex February 23, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Yeah I always assume someone screwed up and read the label anyway. I really appreciate when something is labeled “vegan” and it really is but it just pisses me off when it’s labeled as such and so clearly isn’t. I feel like Wholefoods is all over the place though. They have so many good points and bad points I can’t decide if I like them or not. Not that it matters since I live no where near a WF anymore.

  4. Midge February 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Well that’s annoying! Vegetative State is right! Have you talked to any of the “team members” at your local store about it? I don’t really purchase their pre-packaged prepared foods, but if it’s Whole Foods intention to have their customers easily identify which items are vegetarian as opposed to vegan, then they need fix this problem ASAP. And forget about codes, just spell it out. I don’t think it would take too much label space! It’s still good practice to read ingredients in a label though, even if it takes a bit more time. Good luck contacting them – I mean that sincerely :).

  5. do June 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    my response to this comes as an offer of good intended advice (though probably a bit too late)… if u have such deep problems contacting whole foods, why not just contact the company that made the product – fresh creative foods. should you have to do the job of someone else, no… is it fairly unacceptable that whole foods allowed a product to be “labeled” as vegan/vegetarian when it clearly is not, yes…. but i’m thinking through your cloud of frustration, you missed an opportunity to potentially resolve the problem (if that’s what you truly wish to do to begin with) i’m not sure how many followers you have for this blog, but i kinda wish I never came across it cause you’re pretty angry and unforgiving… not exactly the true nature of a compassionate vegan… I hope you let people know that you not always so angry and care more about the world than just these first world problems.

    • insufferablevegan June 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. That’s a good idea and if I see that problem continuing I will contact Fresh Creative Foods and see if I have any better luck that way. As for your remark that I don’t seem to exhibit it the true nature of a compassionate vegan, this made me cry and feel sad. In fact, it made me so sad that I realized you are a less compassionate vegan than I am. I am compassionate toward humans and animals but you are only compassionate toward animals. Also, complaining about blog posts is number one on Forbes’ 2011 list of First World Problems. You can find it on Google. Finally, if you have ever taken any psychology classes and studied the phenomenon of “projection” you will realize that calling me “angry” means that you are really the one with an anger problem. The good news is that this is the kind of thing that a good therapist can help you with. I wish you the best of luck! Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Cheers.

  6. Marguerite Grifka February 3, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    Thanks for the post, I am opening a takeout eatery and looking for good options to delineate items that are vegan vs. vegetarian. I like the VGT or VTN ideas!

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