Photo of Whole Foods shelves courtesy of Liz V.
Photo of Whole Foods shelves courtesy of Liz V.

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When Felicia Meier, a real estate agent and member of the Adams Morgan-North Dupont Nextdoor, posted to the neighborhood listserv early last week out of frustration, it set off a chain reaction.  

“Within the last 6 weeks I’ve been at the P St. and Foggy Bottom Whole Foods to shop. Has anyone else noticed the bare shelves and at times bare poultry sections? Managers have given me different reasons each time,” she typed. 

People had posted in the thread more than 50 times within a matter of days, with users complaining about their own experiences with two Whole Foods locations—one on I Street NW in Foggy Bottom and the other on P Street NW in Logan Circle. 

“Monday, no spinach, no arugula at all,” wrote a P Street NW shopper. 

Another said they couldn’t find garlic on New Year’s Eve: “Have you ever been to a grocery store with no garlic before a holiday HAH!!” 

“Yes—I’ve noticed whole shelves empty,” another typed. “Very odd.” 

Meier, who doesn’t use Nextdoor often, tells City Paper that she has been to both stores several times and has been unable to find items ranging from lettuce to packs of chicken. She decided to speak up, citing frustration with the lack of transparency concerning the store’s supply issues. 

She was surprised at the number of responses to her post. 

“Someone said they’d gone on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and there were no cranberries,” Meier says. “Who has no cranberries?” 

It doesn’t matter the time of day or day of the week, Meier says, the stores are rarely stocked. Meier says she’s asked store managers for an explanation and they’ve all told her to reach out to the corporate office. Corporate told Meier they would forward her concerns to store leadership, forming a perfect circle. 

City Paper got a similar runaround. The Whole Foods’ corporate office declined to comment on stocking complaints, but did ask for links to the online complaint postings so they could share them with leadership at the stores in question. 

Others have been posting their frustrations to other online platforms, including Yelp. 

Liz V., who asked to go by her Yelp username for privacy reasons, let it all out in early December. “Rarely can I get through my shopping list without them being out of at least one item. They seem to be constantly re-stocking yet continue to run out of the most basic items, such as onions,” she wrote.

In emails with City Paper, Liz V. says the problem is only getting worse. She attached photos of shelves. Some of them are completely empty and others hold a few packages of rice. 

Liz V. has lived near the P Street NW Whole Foods for more than four years and has noticed a decline in stock in the past six months, forcing her to drive to the suburbs to visit alternative Whole Foods grocers. 

“It’s such a soul-crushing experience,” she says. 

Users on the Nextdoor thread were quick to point fingers at an alleged culprit: Amazon’sJeff Bezos, who purchased Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017. 

One user shared that a manager relayed that Whole Foods changed the way it does inventory ever since Amazon purchased the chain, leading to less stock in the back of the store. Another user posted a link to a 2018 Business Insider article outlining Whole Foods’ new “order-to-shelf” system where employees bypass stock rooms and often stock shelves directly from delivery trucks, cutting costs and reducing storage and waste. 

“I’m pretty sure you can blame the supply problems on Bezos,” one user said, while another added that they’ve disliked Bezos since the news broke that Whole Foods would cut healthcare benefits for 1,900 part-time employees starting in 2020. 

Some users said they turned their back on Whole Foods after Amazon purchased it, opting to shop atSafeway or Trader Joe’s instead. The Safeway in Georgetown has plenty of oregano, one Nextdoor user advised. Another user encouraged others to #abandonamazon.

And while the thread has reawakened animosity toward Bezos—who also owns the Post, possibly two D.C. homes, and is building a new Amazon campus in Crystal City—he may not be solely to blame for the stock of at least one of the Whole Foods locations mentioned, according to some shoppers.

The Foggy Bottom Whole Foods lies within The George Washington University’s campus. While GW students don’t have a dining hall, they do have “dining cash,” which they can use to buy produce at their neighborhood Whole Foods. 

Lia DeGroot, a sophomore at GW, confirms that the Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom is often packed with students using their dining plan, although she says she doesn’t believe that students are the sole reason for the stocking concerns. As the metro news editor for the GW Hatchet, DeGroot often receives police reports detailing theft and shoplifting by students at the store, typically involving the hot bar. “But I don’t think it would be enough to cause a dent in their inventory,” she says. 

As for the Whole Foods location on P Street NW, Liz V.’s theory is that it’s overrun by workers shopping and packaging groceries for people who shopped from home and are awaiting a grocery delivery. The newish service could be increasing demand, thus putting a strain on the supply side. Liz V. thinks she’ll switch to shopping at Trader Joe’s on 14th Street NW.