Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

One minute Levi's was jeans. And then it wasn't.

One minute Whole Foods was organic. And then something happened.

Other supermarket chains--ones that you might have once thought ordinary--took a look at this organic thing and decided: "Hmm. We can do that."

A new report from Barclays' analyst Karen Short makes for troubling reading, should you be of a Whole Foodsian persuasion.

She estimates that Whole Foods may have lost as many as 14 million customers over the last six quarters.

Her words are titanically portentous: "The magnitude of the traffic declines...is staggering. As most retailers know--once traffic has been lost, those patterns rarely reverse."

Have humans gotten tired of the organic thing? Have they become aware that there's no real scientific evidence that organic foods have special properties to make you healthier?

Or have they simply strayed?

Short believes the biggest beneficiary hasn't been some hipsterish brand that promises all its foods come from ethically perfect communes.

Instead, it's Kroger that's been stealing in.

Yes, that simple, slightly ordinary supermarket chain founded in the 19th century thought it might stock some of that organic stuff and offer it at slightly lower prices than those of Whole Foods.

It seems to have been wholly successful.

At $16 billion in revenue, Kroger now sells more organic and natural food than does Whole Foods.

I asked Whole Foods whether it was quaking in the aisles and will update, should the company ring me up.

The truth is, though, that Whole Foods has started closing a few stores, which isn't what you expect for a growing brand.

It isn't easy, though, to see what the company might do. It's up against considerable financial might and geographical reach.

If people can buy organic produce at their usual supermarket, why seek out a Whole Foods and pay more?

Two years ago, Whole Foods began to realize that it was aging, and not in a good way.

It planned to open cheaper and more contemporary stores to cater to hipsters. Indeed, these 365 Stores now have taglines such as: "Real Food. Real Value."

But where does that leave the parent brand? Struggling for business like a realtor dad who smoked too much pot and discovered that clients were going elsewhere.

I confess that I haven't been to a Whole Foods in a long time. I tend to use two smaller organic(ish) stores that are simply closer to where I live. They're clever enough to stock a lot of organic produce, but still have room for traditional pleasures (McVitie's chocolate digestive biscuits, for example).

For many people, I suspect, the likes of Kroger might offer more of the everyday products that they want to buy, plus the lure of organic things to make them feel less guilty about the everyday products they want to buy.

Perhaps they don't want to spend $10 on a chocolate bar made by men with long beards, but a couple of organic lettuces and a bunch of organic bananas makes them feel better about themselves.

Kroger gives you permission to buy organic without pressure. Whole Foods became like church, with all the emotional strictures that a church can engender.

It's worth knowing why people love your brand. It's worth, too, anticipating why they might fall out with it and which alternative suitors might enjoy a makeover to make them look more attractive.

As a brand, Whole Foods appears to have stood still in the belief that its organic credentials were all it needed.

Now it needs to inspire, attract, and create triggers for reassessment. That could be very difficult.

Published on: Mar 29, 2017