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Organic powerhouse

Sarah Gardner May 4, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: The nation’s biggest natural foods grocer — Whole Foods — raised its 2006 sales outlook today after reporting healthy and no-doubt organic quarterly profits. The news goosed its stock price by more than 13%. It’s another sign that the green retailer is becoming a major player in the food business. But geese — not to mention ducks — have also been a headache for Whole Foods this week. The company goes to court tomorrow to defend its policy on foie gras. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner has more.

SARAH GARDNER: Whole Foods doesn’t sell foie gras because it objects to the force-feeding of ducks and geese. But one of its distributors was selling the liver delicacy to other grocers. So Whole Foods threatened to cancel its contract with the distributor if it did business with the foie gras maker — Sonoma Foie Gras. Sonoma’s president declined to comment today but one of his competitors defended the company. Michael Ginor, founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras says Whole Foods doesn’t have a moral leg to stand on

MICHAEL GINOR: I think Whole Foods should choose what to offer their clients and not offer their clients. But I don’t think they should have a hand in literally putting another company out of business.

Sonoma is suing Whole Foods for what it calls intentional interference with contract. PETA, the animal rights group, was instrumental in helping Whole Foods formulate its policy. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says the natural foods chain has the right not to do business with companies whose ethics they don’t agree with.

BRUCE FRIEDRICH:“If Sonoma Fois Gras goes down over this it will be one more feather in the cap of Whole Foods, which is clearly on the forefront of showing itself as a compassionate retailer.

Grocery consultant David Livingston says Whole Foods is like the Walmart of the natural foods industry. They don’t quite swing the big bat like walmart, he says, but because they’re number one in their business, they have influence over their suppliers.

Foie Gras makers are fighting other battles as well. California has banned the liver paté starting in 2012 and just last week the Chicago City Council voted to outlaw it.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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