MullenLowe L.A. Bags Whole Foods Creative Account

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A Whole Foods Market store in Sacramento, Calif.
A Whole Foods Market store in Sacramento, Calif. Credit: Whole Foods Market

Nearly two months after it was acquired by Amazon, Whole Foods Market has hired a new creative agency, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The Austin, Texas-based grocery chain, which Amazon bought for $13.7 billion, has chosen MullenLowe L.A. as its creative agency of record after a review, the people said.

A spokeswoman for Whole Foods did not return calls requesting comment.

Representatives from MullenLowe declined to comment. The review, which kicked off in late June, was run by SRI. The invitation to pitch was initially extended to several agencies and quickly narrowed down to a final three, according to sources.

Whole Foods, which was founded 37 years ago, spent more than $60 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media.

It is unclear when consumers might see the fruits of MullenLowe's labor. New marketing had been expected in January, but that timeline may change under the company's new Amazon ownership. As soon as the acquisition closed in August, the Seattle-based tech giant implemented changes at the 466-unit grocer to tackle the derisive "whole paycheck" image that has plagued Whole Foods. It lowered prices on products including bananas, organic avocados and organic brown eggs by as much as 43 percent. Shoppers voiced their approval.

It's still far too soon to determine the full ramifications of Amazon's acquisition. On a conference call to announce second-quarter earnings in July, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky mentioned that Whole Foods, like Amazon, is a "customer-centric" team. "They've built a great business, focus around quality and customer," he said.

Whole Foods had already been gearing up for marketing changes. Late last year, the grocer hired Sonya Gafsi Oblisk, formerly with Sam's Club, as global VP of marketing. In January, it tapped MediaCom for its media planning and buying, following another competitive review. The company has not had a new ad campaign in years; most recently, its "Values Matter" brand campaign, created with Partners & Spade, featured the local growers who made the food.

A news report earlier this fall noted that Whole Foods would be moving away from the local vendors that have long stocked its shelves in favor of more mass market brands in order to embrace Amazon cost and operating synergies. However, a Whole Foods spokeswoman told Ad Age at the time that the brand would continue to work with such small, locally-sourced purveyors.

"All Whole Foods Market stores will continue to sell local products and our buyers remain committed to discovering and incubating local and innovative brands," she said then. "Local suppliers and products are crucial to the success of the company and our ongoing work in category management helps streamline processes that ensure each store has the best possible curated selection of local and national products available for shoppers."

This past summer, MullenLowe was named creative and media AOR for global asset management company Nuveen, perhaps best known for its controversial Super Bowl spot in 2000 featuring paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve walking again. MullenLowe is handling brand strategy and creative development, while MullenLowe Mediahub focuses on media planning and buying.

MullenLowe was also named creative and strategic AOR for E-Trade in April, following a review.

Amazon, for its part, does not have a creative agency of record and in recent months has worked with a variety of shops including Leo Burnett, Crispin Porter & Bogusky Los Angeles, Above & Beyond and Joint.

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