Whole Foods Abandons Ramadan Marketing Campaign (UPDATE)

08/09/2011 02:44 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2011

Whole Foods is the object of a growing controversy about the popular grocery chain's treatment of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims that started Aug. 1.

On July 27, the retailer introduced a special promotion for the month of Ramadan on their blog, Whole Story, featuring special recipes and product giveaways for the month. This promotion also coincided with the introduction of a new halal-certified product line in Whole Foods stores.

A day later, Fast Company posted an article highlighting Whole Foods' online Ramadan campaign as a first for a major American food chain. The article presciently stated that although no major in-store promotions were planned, the Web and social media efforts were a bit of a risk in a U.S. marketplace that is often hostile to Islam.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign garnered the notice of right-wing bloggers who promptly branded Whole Foods as "jihadist" and "anti-Israel." The absurdity of this position may have been easily dismissed if not for the subsequent reaction by leadership at the company.

On Tuesday, the Houston Press published a report revealing the text of an internal email circulated by Whole Foods executives to the chain's stores.

"It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan ... We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan."

The email went on to explain that the promotion previously announced on the company's blog should not be misinterpreted to mean that the chain was celebrating or promoting Ramadan, saying, "The misinterpretation has generated some negative feedback from a small segment of vocal and angry consumers and bloggers."

Whole Foods' apparent capitulation to an extremely vocal minority of Islamophobes has already drawn significant ire from bloggers and on Twitter. What's your reaction to this story? Will this lead to significant trouble for the chain?

UPDATE:

Shortly after the publication of this story, Whole Foods publicly responded to the controversy on their Twitter feed, indicating the instruction to de-emphasize Ramadan was an isolated response by one of the company's 12 operating regions and not indicative of company-wide policy.

We are still carrying and promoting halal products for those that are celebrating Ramadan this month. We never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs or remove parts from this promotion. We have 12 different operating regions and unfortunately, one region reacted by sending out directions to promote halal and not specifically Ramadan after some negative online comments.