Phoenix-Based Author Joe Dobrow Talks Whole Foods Versus Sprouts

Categories: Literary

Courtesy of Joe Dobrow
The Phoenix-based author's book Natural Prophets hits shelves on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Take one step inside the newly built Whole Foods Market near the intersection of Camelback and 20th Street and it's easy to see that the natural foods industry has come a long way in the past two decades. The store is a gleaming beacon for healthful eaters and lovers of artisan food and a far cry from the tiny natural foods sections of grocery stores of the past. Few people appreciate the monumental progress the industry has made better than Phoenix-based author Joe Dobrow, who's been eating all natural food since the mid-'80s.

The former marketing executive also has worked for many of the biggest names in the natural foods industry, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Fresh Fields. And in his upcoming book, Natural Prophets, he gives an insider's look at how these brands and others have changed the American plate forever.

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The book, which will hit shelves on Tuesday, February 18, tells the stories of numerous natural foods companies that emerged during the years after World War II. Some are tales of success, like the story of Whole Foods Market. But others don't have such a happy ending.

Such is the case with Frookies and the company's owner, Richard Worth. Don't know the name or the product? Well that's not a surprise, though in the late '80s and early '90s, Frookies, a brand of fruit juice-sweetened cookies, took supermarkets across the country by storm. In just a few years, the company got its product into more than 60 percent of grocery stores nationwide, taking a bite out of the $7 billion cookie and cracker industry.

"Behind the scenes, [Worth] felt like he was changing the world," Dobrow says. "A lot of these guys did."

But Worth's story ends with "an amazing descent into nothingness," as Dobrow tells it. The company was gone within a year after Worth tried to expand too quickly, taking on giants like Nabisco and General Mills.

The book also covers some of the history of the company that's become synonymous with health food stores: Whole Foods. Dobrow worked as national director of marketing for the company for seven years and consulted two Whole Foods board members and two former Whole Foods presidents while working on the book.

"Whole Foods is an amazing business with an amazing story," Dobrow says.

The Austin-based company -- which has eight stores in Arizona -- opened its doors in 1980. It's since become the leading natural foods store, having acquired more than a dozen other companies along the way. But what we see of the company here in Arizona might not be the best representation, Dobrow says.

"Whole Foods has not put its best foot forward in Arizona," he says.

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Changing Hands Bookstore

6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe, AZ

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Chow Bella
Chow Bella

Whole Foods does carry some more expensive products -- often because they're locally-made or artisan -- but if you're comparing the store brands (i.e. Sprouts v. Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value) the prices are pretty much the same. In fact, Whole Foods tends to be cheaper by a very small margin.

Charlotte Bohnett
Charlotte Bohnett

From what I've read Whole Foods is horrible to their employees. Also, saying that Sprouts' and Whole Foods' prices are equal is ridiculous. I've price shopped. Sprouts is significantly more on level with Fry's than with Whole Foods. This article was accurate about Sprouts' great produce, though.


I hope Whole Foods paid you well for this: pretending that you would pay equally at Sprouts what you would at Whole Foods is laughable.


Yes, but what fraction of a typical purchase at Whole Foods involves the 365 brand? Defenders of Whole Foods often cite this brand without any realistic consideration of how little shelf space it takes up in a typical Whole Foods store.

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