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Is a Whole Foods credit card in store for us?

John Egan

We’ve already got credit cards offering a cornucopia of rewards for buying groceries. And there’s even a credit card branded with the name of Kroger, the country’s largest grocery store chain.

But I’m a little unnerved by the prospect, raised by the Wall Street Journal, of a Whole Foods-branded credit card. Yes, the same chain, known as “Whole Paycheck,” that helped whip up the national obsession with organic food. Yes, the same chain that e-commerce powerhouse Amazon is buying for $13.7 billion.

Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, where I live, always seems to have bucked the norm a bit. Perhaps some of that norm-bucking stems from the New Age-ish vibe of the grocer’s co-founder and CEO, John Mackey. He’s a vegan, a “conscious capitalist” and a yoga devotee.

So it feels a little un-organic, shall we say, that shoppers at Whole Foods – which Mackey recently called his “baby” – might be able to put their purchases of “responsibly raised” salmon and 365 Everyday Value Coconut Water on a Whole Foods credit card.

Then why in the world would Whole Foods enter the credit card business? According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s all about the wealth of customer data that Amazon wants to gather. The newspaper reports that once Amazon assumes ownership of Whole Foods, “the online retail giant likely will add new ways to track in-store consumer spending.”

And one of the potential ways of tracking in-store consumer spending? A Whole Foods credit card.

Of course, this idea shouldn’t come as a huge shock. After all, Amazon already has its own branded credit cards. Plus, it’s not as if Whole Foods is a feel-good charity; the company rang up revenue of $15.7 billion in 2016.

John Mackey may be a “conscious capitalist,” but Amazon and Whole Foods are unapologetically – although compassionately – capitalistic. And if being a successful capitalist means cranking out a Whole Foods credit card, so be it.

Still, Whole Foods isn’t Costco, Macy’s or Target, all of which have their own credit cards. To me, Whole Foods has seemed during its 37-year history to be somewhat of a retail rebel, especially in its early days.

Therefore, a Whole Foods credit card doesn’t feel like it should be a component of the organic retailer’s DNA.

If Whole Foods introduces a credit card, will its shoppers be up in arms? I doubt it. They probably can afford it. As long as folks can still pick up their organic unsalted butter and their organic wild blueberries, they probably won’t fuss over a rectangular piece of plastic.

Now, those same shoppers might throw a fit if Whole Foods started bagging their groceries with plastic instead of paper.

See related: 4 ways to eat healthy without starving your wallet

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