The boss of Whole Foods Market, the organic food retailer that launched a huge store in London last month, has been caught using Yahoo!’s stock market forum to criticise a competitor, which he then proceeded to
buy.

John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods, used the moniker ‘Rahodeb’ to make postings about rival Wild Oats over several years, according to a filing from the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC is investigating Whole Foods’ $565m purchase of Wild Oats, agreed earlier this year.

Rahodeb’s postings included one in January 2005, which asked:

“Would Whole Foods buy OATs? Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain?”

Later, he wrote that Wild Oats’ management “clearly doesn’t know what it is doing… OATS has no value and no future”. This, folks, is the art of de-ramping.

Mackey also defended himself when a user made fun of his picture in the company’s annual report, saying he thought he was “cute”. In 2000, he wrote:

“While I’m not a Mackey groupie, I do admire what the man has accomplished.”

Wow. CEOs have groupies? This is a disturbing twist, more worrying than the outcome of the FTC investigation, and one that merits further investigation.

At any rate, Whole Foods said Mackey had made these remarks “under an alias to avoid having his comments associated with the company and to avoid others placing too much emphasis on his remarks.”

So that’s alright then? Not in our world it isn’t. This is about a CEO making bad noise about a competitor he wants to buy, using a fake name, to damage investor sentiment and force the price down. Smart move, unless you get caught.

Actually, there’s plenty more comment from the man himself via the much-needed-at-this-moment company blog, including one mega-post where Mackey makes more amusing comments. He talks about “transparency” and mentions how “it is very frustrating to be continually misquoted and misinterpreted”, taking aim at low-rent journalists. All very worthy, from a known faker…

This is an online and offline PR nightmare. It would be great to hear from PRs – what would you advise in this situation? Are we seriously expected to believe anything on the company blog? To believe that Mackey isn’t writing his own comments, and answering them? To buy into Mackey’s views on transparency and ‘open, candid communication’?