whole foods ingredient list
Article by: Underground Formulator

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Whole Foods Unacceptable list, I was able to get in touch with the person in charge of creating this list for Whole Foods. It was a nice conversation and we were both able to explain our positions whole foods ingredient listabout the list. She also explained how the list was created. It has been a while since we spoke, but I’ll try to recall to the best of my ability the key points. I know she’s reading the blog and can also comment if I get anything wrong. I also went the other route and put the question about betaine inconsistencies to their customer service group. I’ll start by posting the canned response from them:

We do allow betaines as part of our Premium Body Care standard, so long as the supplier is able to provide documentation showing that these ingredients are made from a renewable source. In  general, the process of crafting Premium Body Care entailed evaluating the personal care ingredients on our shelves one by one, screening them for their source, safety, environmental impact, and efficacy. Premium Body Care is unique to Whole Foods Market, and each ingredient has a rationale for its status.
For additional information, please see: Premium Body Care Standards

List Creation

Basically, the list was created by taking every product in body care and reviewing the LOIs ingredient-by-ingredient. From there, they made a spreadsheet and made a call on every ingredient. It should be noted the person I spoke to was a nutritionist, not a chemist. She did inform me they consulted actual chemists when making the list. They also are under pressure from non-science based watchdog organizations like the Environmental Working Group, and considered their ratings when deciding what would or would not be acceptable. I was forwarded the full list with every reviewed ingredient. The list on their website is just the ones that were labeled “unacceptable”. When I brought up inconsistencies on certain things that I already mentioned in my previous posts here, here & here, the best answer I got was they made a judgment call.

Premium Body Care vs Body Care

I was also reminded that products can be formulated with the ingredients as long as they meet the lower standard, they just don’t get the “Premium Body Care” designation. I said I know of no formulators making products that don’t conform to the Premium standard. Why would they?

INCI Adherence

I also brought up that they went out of their way to call out products that were just plain spelled wrong and put them on the list (e.g. Thiotic Acid), yet they are allowing products on the shelf that have ingredients listings with things like “organic coconut oil” and “organic rosemary extract”. Once you say the word organic on a label it no longer conforms to the INCI designation. I didn’t get a good answer for this question. I hope they address this with their suppliers in the future. Honestly I don’t know if they know it’s wrong or look the other way because they like the word “organic”.

Unintended consequences

Overall, the impression I got was they did not set out to make this list with their suppliers in mind. This was more intended for their consumers. I explained that in making the list they made a huge impact at their suppliers making them reformulate products that were otherwise safe and effective. The recent post here about J&J changing their formula could have been kicked off by this list. I believe in removing the formaldehyde it would be acceptable for Whole Foods now.

I got a bit off track with the actual contact with Whole Foods people, but next week I’ll be back with more inconsistencies on the list and see if we can keep the dialogue going.


  1. BeautyScientist

    I don’t doubt Whole Foods have the right to sell whatever they choose according to whatever criteria it pleases them to adopt. I commend them for being prepared to enter into a dialogue with our subterranean friend after he called them out. Popular as this blog is with cosmetic chemists it is not exactly a mass media, so I am impressed they aren’t simply ignoring it. But I still think their list is silly and I have the choice of whether or not to buy from them.

    No doubt Whole Foods can do without my custom. I dare say a big corporation like them will inevitably get a few things wrong and can’t hope to please everyone. But I have a feeling the this kind of greenwashing won’t cut it with green consumers in the long run. If this is the way they generally work I wonder how long it will be before people notice.

  2. Underground Chemist

    Angry much?
    Normally I wouldn’t even respond to angry rants but I think you’re confused about a few points.
    1. I don’t know of anyone *formulating specifically for Whole Foods* that aren’t going by the premium body standards. Of course people that don’t care about selling there are not formulating to the list.
    2. I said they *did* consult with actual chemists in making the list.
    3. Whole Foods has every right to make a list that ban ingredients that they feel give them their niche in the marketplace. I would just appreciate consistency and data-driven reasons for bans.
    4. I think I’ve shown numerous examples on how to get around the list already based on the inconsistencies so my formulation skills to make things for them are just fine. Apparently you haven’t read the previous posts.
    5. I think my conversation with the person at Whole Foods came from a place of trying to make it better and offering solutions. I offered some solutions in previous columns as well.

    1. A more underground Chemist

      I am not angry. Honestly I do not care enough to get angry. Sorry you feel my pointing out your shortcomings gets interpreted as anger.

      1) you never stated “formulating specifically for Whole Foods” sorry that I could not understand what you truly meant even though you stated nothing close to that. My bad.

      2) I guess you totally missed the point on this one. I was commenting on your lack of professionalism when detailing responses to your criticism. Many would make the effort to accurately relay their responses.

      3)If they have every right to choose what they want to allow that should be enough. Create your own retail outlet if you feel you can do better.

      4) Getting around the rules is always easy. Once again ” Chemists will always be smarter than Lawyers” . Legislation will never be the way to make real change. Until we want to formulate better safer products the rules will always have loopholes we can exploit. Once again you missed the point

      5) My bad again. I really never saw any offered solutions. Lets start with Betaines, what would your suggestions be to distinguishing one from the other. Have you ever tried to make a standard? I honestly challenge you to make a better standard that is useable for us in the cosmetic industry.

  3. A more underground Chemist

    Wow. I do not even know where to begin.
    You consider yourself an expert in touch with the trends and people involved in this industry, yet you know of no chemists formulating outside the Whole Foods Premium standard? Really? REALLY??
    Then you claim that nobody at Whole Foods will talk to “real chemists” like yourself, but when they do you do not even have the forethought or decency to actually write down what they say, you just regurgitate it from the best of your ability. Once again.. Really?
    Do you also walk into Mercedes dealerships and complain that they do not sell Chryslers? Whole Foods can sell whatever they choose based on whatever standard they see fit. If your formulating skills are not up to the challenge I’m sure there are some jobs in journalism, you show great talent there.
    Why are you railing on them for their choices? It is their store. Why not make some helpful suggestions, or better yet make your own standard to submit to them that would differentiate them from other retailers. It does seem that they have been responsive to you so far.
    Like my Chem teacher used to always say, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate”. Why not try and help? We all want the same thing, Working together is always a better solution IMHFUO.

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