Whole Foods controversy sparks conversation

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Whole Foods on North Lamar is facing allegations after local pastor Jordan Brown, who accused the store of defacing his ordered cake with a derogatory slur.
Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

After an openly gay local pastor alleged he unknowingly purchased a cake from Whole Foods with a derogatory slur written on it, the company has been stuck in a crisis management situation that it has handled in an appropriate and timely manner, according to a UT public relations professor.

Pastor Jordan Brown ordered a cake with the words “Love Wins” written on it. Brown alleges he did not notice the derogatory slur against gay people written on the cake until after he left the store.

Advertising senior lecturer Terry Hemeyer said the top priority for companies such as Whole Foods in public relations is focusing on the public’s perception of their brand, arguing that timing is critical in whether the public will turn against or in favor of the company.

Hemeyer, who has worked in crisis management during his career, said unlike other companies in similar situations, Whole Foods acted quickly and diligently in reviewing video footage of the incident and gathering as much necessary additional information. 

“Don’t go home at 5 o’clock and come back the next day,” Hemeyer said. “You have to get on it quickly because you have to get the facts.”

After Brown’s initial allegation, Brown and his attorney filed a suit against Whole Foods last Monday. 

“My question is, who could have done this?” Brown said in a YouTube video. “It’s still inside of a sealed box, right there, clear as day, from Whole Foods.”

The company filed a countersuit the following day, alleging Brown was acting with malice when making his claims.

“We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ community, and we appreciate the team members and shoppers who recognize that this claim is completely false and directly contradicts Whole Foods Market’s inclusive culture, which celebrates diversity,” the company said in a statement.

Whole Foods representatives declined to comment further for this article.

“Even though [Whole Foods] are kind of responsible for the people they pay and their actions, ultimately I think people can have lapses in judgment,” advertising junior Dani Munoz said. “I want to believe the pastor didn’t do [anything], but sometimes people go to extremes to make statements and sometimes it comes at the costs of others.”

Hemeyer said once an allegation has been made public, companies must act fast to collect as much information as possible and determine a proper course of action to address the complaint.

“It’s difficult to respond when you don’t have the facts,” Hemeyer said. “You should be careful of what you say, because there are many examples of people who will say stuff and it’s wrong, and then it’s even worse.”