My first thought when I saw this grind clock perched atop the meat display counter at the Whole Foods in Tenleytown was the obvious: This has to be a reaction to the New York Times‘ October investigation into the ground beef business, which revealed, among other things, that “a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses” and that “these cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination.”

But my first thought was wrong.

I asked the butcher behind the counter when Whole Foods had installed the grind clock, and he said a few months ago, or about a month before the Times‘ investigation. The Tenleytown store, he added, borrowed the idea from the Georgetown store, which had had the clock for months.

Whatever the timing and whatever the accuracy of the clock, it’s a brilliant marketing ploy. The clock fosters the sort of trust that consumers want from their organic/natural foods mega-chain, particularly a chain that gives off the impression of trying to corner the crunchy, granola-eating market and gouge those very same consumers.

Between the grind clock and this sort of labeling (picture below), not to mention the chain’s meat sourcing, I have to think that Whole Foods’ ground beef sales have soared in the past three months.