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Whole Foods said yesterday that each of its 273 stores has been individually certified as an organic grocer complying with federal regulations that require the company to audit all of its products to make sure they live up to organic certification standards, make sure that these products are no co-mingled with conventional products in a way that might contaminate them, and train employees in how to handle organic merchandise.

"This news underscores our unwavering commitment to the overall integrity of organic and offers assurance to our shoppers," says Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. "Our stores are an organic product's last step in the journey from farm to shopping cart. It's important for Whole Foods Market to maintain its certification as an organic retailer so our customers can trust that the organic food they choose has been sourced, stored, handled and marketed according to organic requirements."

According to the company, when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) first developed organic standards seven years ago, companies were allowed to apply for group certification; now, however, USDA requires that store be individually certified.

"We believe that our customers benefit from having everyone who handled their organic food certified, not everyone except the retailer," says Dickson. "While some certified retailers may have just a few departments certified, and focus on shrink-wrapped organic produce, we've opted to go all out. In our stores, every department that handles organic food is certified - produce, meat, bulk, cheese, even stores with organic salad bars are certified."
KC's View:
In the end, this is Whole Foods’ true differential advantage…and when the recession ends (eventually), it needs to make sure that it is positioned right in its segment.