Whole Paycheck? Now, just Half Paycheck. Bargain!

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

There was some surprise recently when it emerged that Whole Foods was having problems.

An analyst at Barclays claimed that the organic supermarket might have lost as many as 14 million customers over the last six quarters.

A big reason? Kroger’s.

This seemingly middle-of-the-road chain had suddenly pushed the sport button on the dashboard of its Honda Accord and realized that it, too, could stock organic food.

Why, then, would customers need to go to Kroger’s and Whole Foods?

The result? Kroger’s now enjoys more revenue from organic food than Whole Foods.

So what’s the Austin-based brand of the bearded save-the-worlders supposed to do? Become Walmart? Perhaps.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Whole Foods is reducing its prices.

I hear you cheer. I ask you to pause.

You surely know, because you’ve lived a little, that the price reduction might have a downside.

Indeed, it seems that Wall Street types have been pressuring the organic kingdom to operate more like the grub(by) proletariat.

So Whole Foods hired an executive from Target in order to centralize things. Target is the just-about-acceptable cousin of the Walmart clan.

I feel you shuddering. Your frissons may be justified.

One effect of this more Politburo approach — Whole Foods is currently divided into 11 regions — may be that your local Whole Foods stocks fewer items. Fewer of those cuddly local, quirky items that you adore, that is.

Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey says of the new strategy that it “strikes a balance” between the more locally-sourced items and the big national brands.

One man’s balance is another man’s toppling down the mountainside.

Even more tremor-inducing is Mackey’s promise that customers will see “tremendous savings.”

It’s so hard to keep your cachet when you suddenly admit you’ve been charging too much.

You know how this may end. Whole Foods becomes more like Kroger’s, which has become more like Whole Foods, which means that they all become the same.

Of course, it could be that once Whole Foods begins to shake the notion of it being Whole Paycheck, people will view it in a different light. In which case, annoying things like location and little human touches like design and service might play a very big role.

But if the company really is losing business as Barclays’ analyst says, what incentive is there for customers to come back?

Is it just the prices? Or has Whole Foods begun to look a little ordinary?

If there will be fewer items, if (what customers used to see as) originality is lost in favor of, um, balance, where’s the attraction?

Perhaps the company will offer a new marketing campaign.

Whole Foods. We’re Like Kroger’s, But More Wholey.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.