Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

Whole Foods has a national branding problem. Once synonymous with “healthy” and “organic,” Whole Foods has lately been derided for high prices and quackery. Its grip on natural has slipped as new competitors—most formidably Walmart—have stocked their shelves with organic foodstuffs for a fraction of its costs. The formerly elusive bag of high-quality quinoa has become, for Whole Foods, horrifyingly ubiquitous.

How do you fix a national branding problem? With a national branding campaign, which is what Whole Foods announced on Monday. Headlined “Values Matter,” the campaign is designed to restore customers’ faith in Whole Foods values in two senses: its prices and its ethics. “Not everyone knows what makes Whole Foods different from other grocers,” Jeannine D’Addario, global vice president of communications at Whole Foods, said in a statement. “This campaign will distinguish what makes our brand special, our food different, and our quality superior.”

The campaign features 22 video ads, which were uploaded to YouTube in a “Values Matter” playlist between Friday and Monday. Two 31-second ads are marked as TV commercials—one for produce (above) and one for beef (below). They play heavily to the sustainability-conscious, emphasizing that Whole Foods produce is “grown locally on over 1,000 U.S. farms” and its beef is “from cattle who’ve had room to roam.” Inspirational string music hums in the background and the sun glistens on workers picking vegetables and a herd of cattle striding through fog. “Whole Foods Market: America’s healthiest grocery store,” the ads conclude.

Whole Foods hasn’t disclosed how much it spent on the campaign, but the New York Times reports that the budget is estimated between $15 million and $20 million. In previous advertising sprees, the store has spent less and focused on promoting specific products or marketing to local and regional customers. Since 2008, Whole Foods has spent between $4 million and $8.4 million on advertising each year. Its latest campaign targets people ages 25 to 49, the company said, and will run through winter 2015. It also seems geared to high-end consumers—print ads will appear in Bloomberg Businessweek, Rolling Stone, and the Times, among other publications. In presumably another effort to appeal to that demographic, Whole Foods also said Monday it will begin accepting Apple Pay.

Whole Foods, in other words, is not trying to radically expand its consumer base with this new campaign. It probably knows that it will never be able to compete with the likes of Walmart in increasing affordability and access to organic foods, so it’s not really trying to. What Whole Foods thinks it can do better than Walmart is values—of the ethical kind. “We’re trying to advertise who we are. We’re trying to change what we think is a negative narrative about our company,” co-CEO John Mackey told investors in July. What remains to be seen is whether that will be enough to win frustrated and disillusioned customers over again.