Whoever said any publicity is good publicity has not gone through what the Sunflower Market grocery store chain has gone through in the Phoenix area in just a couple weeks.
First 31-year old Anthony Garcia was arrested after handling out yogurt samples at Sunflower that a female customer said “tasted like semen.”
She called police and Garcia was immediately arrested on some outstanding bench warrants. Just as all the quips about what tasted like yogurt had died down, Sunflower’s p.r. problems went from bad to worse in a very serious way.
In a sting operation using a Phoenix policewoman as bait, Sunflower CEO Mark Gilliland was arrested on a charge of felony child prostitution. He is alleged to have met a female who identified herself as being underage for prostitution purposes.
Gilliland is the founder of both Wild Oats Markets, which he sold to Whole Foods in 2007, and Sunflower, which since 2002 has grown to 32 stores in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Texas.
Over the weekend, Sunflower Stores announced that its board of directors had accepted Gilliland’s resignation. Chris Sherrell, the chain’s chief operating officer, was named chief executive. No changes in store operations are expected.
Gilliland played a prominent role in Sunflower’s expansion, often meeting with community and elected officials where new stores were being located.
Before resigning, he indicated he’d be pleading innocent to the charges.
As for the tainted yogurt, Phoenix Police said they’d matched the DNA of the sample to Garcia. He could be looking at federal food tampering and state battery charges, police said. That investigation is ongoing.