Whole Foods Touts (pictures of) Local Produce

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Whole Foods' local grower campaign hasn't panned out as advertised, according to a lawsuit filed by an Alabama farmer.

Snow's Bend Farm, a family-owned commercial grower near Black Warrior River, AL, said in a suit last week Whole Foods' advertisements list the grower as a fresh and authentic local supplier. But the grocer has never bought a single item from Snow's Bend, says the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham. Whole Foods had no comment on the matter Monday, saying only that it hopes for a peaceful resolution.

The suit says the saga started in January 2007 when a Whole Foods executive contacted the farm, saying it wanted to buy produce and tout the grower as a "local supplier."

Whole Foods, which last year opened its only Alabama store on U.S. 280 in Birmingham, took photos of the farm and interviewed owner David Snow. Snow, the suit says, agreed to the arrangement based upon Whole Foods' agreement to buy some produce from him.

Next, according to the suit, Snow and the farm wound up on Whole Foods' Web site, listed as a produce vendor. According to the lawsuit, Whole Foods has never patronized Snow's Bend "in any way, shape or form." The suit says Whole Foods used the Snow's Bend image and name without permission, expropriated the company's good will and profited from the ensuing unauthorized association.

"It's pretty plain," said Russell Drake, a lawyer for Birmingham's Whatley Drake & Kallas who represents the farm. "They put our photo up on the Web and said `local grower.'"

Whole Foods spokeswoman Darrah Horgan said the company hopes the issue can be resolved amicably. She said Whole Foods had no further comment, citing the pending nature of the litigation.





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