Natural Food CEO Arrested For Child Prostitution

The founder of Whole Foods competitor Wild Oats has been arrested on child prostitution charges. Will his current company lose its virtuous image?

According to the Arizona Republic, Wild Oats founder and current Sunflower Farmers Market CEO Michael C. Gilliland was arrested at a hotel where "expecting to pay for sexual intercourse with a person who had identified herself as an underage girl he had met online." But the "underage girl" wasn't real, and the setup was part of a larger sting operation that has led to seven other arrests. Gilliland says he's innocent, but has resigned from Sunflower anyway.

The practice of arresting would-be pedophiles for soliciting children who never really existed is problematic, and some question whether such stings entrap people who would not otherwise have sought sex with kids. These concerns notwithstanding, Gilliland's arrest is clearly a PR disaster for Sunflower, perhaps especially because of the kind of company it is. On its (colorful, barnyardy) website, Sunflower bills itself as "a rapidly growing chain of full-service grocery stores offering consumers the highest quality natural and organic products at the lowest possible price." It touts its environmental bona fides — "bathrooms equipped with waterless urinals" — its fair business practices — "honest-to-goodness negotiating for the lowest possible price" — and its charitable affiliations — "Sunflower's Partnership in Giving reflects our dedication to the organizations that have kept our local communities standing strong." Most companies try to make themselves look virtuous — even oil conglomerates make much of their green initiatives — but natural foods purveyors are especially beholden to seem pure, which makes Gilliland's arrest particularly nasty for Sunflower.

Of course, our imposition of morality on food is arbitrary in many ways, and there's no reason the people who sell us our vegetables should be any better than the people who extract our oil. And really, no business wants its CEO accused of pedophilia. But if Gilliland is convicted — as he swears he won't be — it'll be a reminder that selling organic apples doesn't make you a saint.

Sunflower Market CEO Resigns After Sex-Sting Arrest [Arizona Republic]