Food Biz

The World's Healthiest Grocery Store?

August  1, 2016

Whole Foods' application to brand itself as the "World's Healthiest Grocery Store" has been rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, MarketWatch reports.

The letter deemed the applied-for tagline was "merely descriptive" (in other words, not factual); the Patent Office disapproves of "self-laudatory" and "puffing" trademark applications, which it considers "more likely to render a mark merely descriptive, not less so." The office also pointed out that other stores make similar claims to healthiness, proving that the name could be applied to multiple businesses.

(So, a tip: If applying for a U.S. patent, avoid unsubstantiated superlatives.)

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But will the rejection stick? As Fortune noted, Whole Foods' current trademark—"America's Healthiest Grocery Store"—was also initially rejected. (When companies do register successfully for these sweeping trademarks, the Washington Post explains, it's because they can argue that the title is a "distinguishing mark of the company"—one that their consumers already associate with the brand").

So America first, the world, next? Not so fast. Whole Foods has been slow to break into the global market and, without that leverage, may have a hard time fighting the rejection (which is not final—the company has until January to update and refile the case).

Still, the application could be a sign that the store's worldwide ambitions are just beginning.

Our take? It's more exploitation of the confusion surrounding the words "healthy" and "healthiest."

Can a grocery store—where you can find foods that some would consider "healthy" and some "unhealthy"; where you can buy produce NY Mag reports will harm you and the environment; where you can buy water-sucking tomatoes and almonds—really be the healthiest? And who gets to decide that?

For now, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

What's your take? Can one grocery store really be healthier than another? Or is it the choices you make at the store that matter?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kelley Bodwell
    Kelley Bodwell
  • Sarita Ferreiro Hand
    Sarita Ferreiro Hand
  • Smaug
  • Alexandra G
    Alexandra G
  • 702551
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Kelley B. August 11, 2016
while I do think it's kind of a dumb marketing ploy, I think it's more unfortunate that people will probably believe shopping at whole foods makes them a healthy human being. ultimately, it doesn't really matter how food is marketed if consumers aren't aware of what is truly healthy. and that is such a great debate! but I think the general trend of wanting to treat our bodies well is a good start, and hopefully it leads to greater consideration of treating the planet and each other with respect and care as well.
Sarita F. August 1, 2016
I really enjoy Food 52. It has become my #1 source for food inspiration and often helps me get out of a cooking rut. The new live videos are no slouch either. However, I found this article to be written in poor taste. Food 52 typically brings awareness to new foods, restaurants, and techniques, all in a positive light. This article lacked that trademark Food 52 enthusiasm and many important facts. For example: Did you know that Whole Foods Market was the first Certified organic grocer? Keep on sharing new foods/recipes/ideas and let Whole Foods Market celebrate what they do best.
Alexandra G. August 2, 2016
If that's the truth then that is a great tag phrase.."First Certified Organic Grocer."
Smaug August 11, 2016
If the rules for retailers to receive certification are as compromised as those for growers, that's a pretty vague distinction. Not to mention that the equivalence of "healthy" and "organic" is more a matter of emotion than science- I'd rather have a farmer who cares about the quality of his product, "organic" or not, than one who blindly follows some government guidelines.
Sarah J. August 11, 2016
I think that's one of the best parts of going to the farmers market!
Smaug August 1, 2016
We are now bombarded with hype from all directions at all times- how far can it go before people learn to ignore it routinely?
Alexandra G. August 1, 2016
Herein lies my gripe with capitalism- always trying to be bigger, better, acquire more customers, make more money! I.e. Global domination! Last I checked (and was employed by) Whole Foods is doing just fine and some new, exciting marketing strategy isn't necessary. I'm pretty sure everyone knows Whole Foods is filled with, well, whole foods.
702551 August 1, 2016
It's the choices you make that matter ultimately, and not just about grocery shopping but about almost anything in life.
PHIL August 1, 2016
I don't see an issue with it. it may not be 100% true but it conveys the idea that they are concerned with bringing healthy and environmentally friendly foods to market. Disney claims to be the happiest place on earth but try going there with 2 toddlers and you may disagree.
Kyle M. August 1, 2016
What is interesting is that, and I view this in the same way as what whole foods is trying, Subway has "footlong" trademarked and their sandwiches aren't footlongs. When challenged, say things such as "it is a name, not a descriptive term"