Whole Foods Market is a food retailer of "natural" and organic products, including produce, seafood, grocery, meat and poultry, bakery, prepared foods and catering, beer, wine, cheese, whole body, floral, pet products, and household products. The company also sells a selection of conventional national brands. The company is consistently ranked among the most socially responsible businesses and placed second on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of Top 25 Green Power Partners.
Customers and critics have occasionally referred to Whole Foods by the nickname "Whole Paycheck" because of the high prices of many of their products.
Two years later, John Mackey partnered with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles to merge SaferWay with their Clarksville Natural Grocery, resulting in the opening of the original Whole Foods Market on September 20, 1980. At and with a staff of 19, the store was quite large in comparison to the standard health food store of the time.
Less than a year later, on Memorial Day in 1981, the worst flood in 70 years devastated the city of Austin. Caught in the flood waters, the store’s inventory was wiped out and most of the equipment was damaged. The losses were approximately $400,000 and Whole Foods Market had no insurance. Customers and neighbors voluntarily joined the staff to repair and clean up the damage. Creditors, vendors and investors all assisted in helping the store recover, and it reopened 28 days after the flood.
Beginning in 1984, Whole Foods began its expansion out of Austin, first to Houston and Dallas and then into New Orleans with the purchase of The Whole Food Company in 1988. In 1989, the company expanded to the West Coast with a store in Palo Alto, California. While opening new stores, the company fueled rapid growth by acquiring other natural foods chains throughout the 1990s: Wellspring Grocery of North Carolina, Bread & Circus of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (banner retired in 2003), Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets of Los Angeles, Bread of Life of Northern California, Fresh Fields Markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Florida Bread of Life stores, Detroit-area Merchant of Vino stores, and Nature’s Heartland of Boston. The company's 100th store was opened in Torrance, California, in 1999.
The company started its third decade with additional acquisitions. The first was Natural Abilities in 2000, which did business as Food for Thought in Northern California. In 2001, Whole Foods also moved into Manhattan. Later that year, Whole Foods acquired the assets of Harry’s Farmers Market, which included three stores in Atlanta. The year 2002 saw Whole Foods expand outside the US when a store was opened in Toronto, Ontario. Continuing its expansion, Select Fish of Seattle was acquired in 2003. In 2005, Whole Foods opened its flagship store in downtown Austin. The company's headquarters moved into offices above the store.
Whole Foods' expansion has increased the need for products and processing plants. In response, the company added its 365 Everyday Value product line and purchased Allegro Coffee Company in 1997. A seafood processing plant was opened in Atlanta in 2003, the year Whole Foods became United States' first national "certified organic" grocer.
On June 27, 2007, the Federal Trade Commission issued an administrative complaint challenging Whole Foods Market, Inc.’s acquisition of Wild Oats Markets Inc. According to the complaint, the FTC believed that the proposed transaction would violate federal antitrust laws by eliminating the substantial competition between two close competitors in the operation of premium natural and organic supermarkets nationwide. The FTC contended that if the transaction were to proceed Whole Foods would have the ability to raise prices and reduce quality and services. Both Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats stated their intention to vigorously oppose the FTC’s complaint and a court hearing on the issue was scheduled for July 31 and August 1, 2007. Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey took the unusual step of initiating a blog on the subject to explain his opposition to the FTC’s stance. Papers filed by the FTC revealed that for several years Mackey posted highly opinionated comments under the pseudonym "Rahodeb" on the Whole Foods Yahoo! investment message board, raising serious legal and ethical questions.
On August 23, 2007, the federal appeals court for the D.C. circuit refused to block the deal. The court cited increasing competition in the organic grocery business from traditional grocers like Safeway and Kroger as reasoning for allowing the deal. Whole Foods officially completed its buyout of Wild Oats on August 27, 2007. Whole Foods plans to upgrade and improve some Wild Oats locations before rebranding them to the "Whole Foods" name. Other Wild Oats locations will either be relocated or closed.
In October 2007, the company completed the sale of all 35 Henry's Farmers Market and Sun Harvest Market stores to a subsidiary of Los Angeles grocer Smart & Final Inc. for $166 million.
The online postings of Whole Foods Market's CEO, John Mackey, have become the subject of an informal inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal. Mackey posted numerous messages on a Yahoo financial forum under the user name "rahodeb", according to a court document filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and postings on Yahoo. The postings came to light during an FTC investigation of Whole Foods' planned takeover of Wild Oats Markets Inc. Mackey's messages painted a bright future for Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest U.S. natural and organic grocer, and downplayed the threat posed by competitors. While it isn’t clear that Mackey violated any laws in his postings, the issue has raised numerous legal questions. The newspaper also reported the SEC is likely to examine whether Mackey’s comments contradicted what the company previously said or were overly optimistic about the firm’s performance.
The SEC considered whether the CEO selectively disclosed material corporate information, which could violate a securities law passed in 2000 (known as Regulation Fair Disclosure), which was designed to prevent executives from sharing information with favored clients or analysts. On July 17, 2007, Whole Foods stated that its board has formed an independent committee to investigate the postings. The SEC cleared Mackey of the charges on April 25, 2008.
Whole Foods Market only sells products that meet its self-imposed quality standards for being "natural", which the store defines as: minimally processed foods that are free of hydrogenated fats as well as artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners preservatives, and many others as listed on their online "Unacceptable Food Ingredients" list. Whole Foods has also announced that it does not intend to sell meat or milk from cloned animals or their offspring, even though the FDA has ruled them safe to eat. The company also sells many USDA-certified organic foods and products that aim to be environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible. Stores do not carry foie gras or eggs from hens confined to battery cages due to animal cruelty concerns, as a result of successful advocacy by animal welfare groups.
Whole Foods has been criticized that its products may not be as progressive as they are touted to be. Author Michael Pollan has contended that the supermarket chain has done well in expanding the organic market, but has done so at the cost of local foods, regional producers, and distributors. Parts of the debate have taken place publicly through a series of letters between Pollan and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.
Ronnie Cummins, national director of the United States Organic Consumers Association, said that Whole Foods simply uses the term natural as a marketing tool. Whole Foods Market's website details the company’s quality standards to provide clarity to customers about its criteria for selling food, dietary supplements, and personal care products.
Whole Foods Market purchases products for retail sale from local, regional and international wholesale suppliers and vendors. The majority of purchasing occurs at the regional and national levels in order to negotiate volume discounts with major vendors and distributors. Regional and store buyers are focused on local products and any unique products necessary to ensure a neighborhood market feel in the stores. Whole Foods says that company is committed to buying from local producers that meet its quality standards while also increasingly focusing more of their purchasing on producer- and manufacture-direct programs. The company has several full-time employees within each store whose sole duty is to source local products in different regions of the country. Also, at certain times of the year and at certain locations, the company encourages all of its employees to search and determine appropriate local vendors. Nationally, Whole Foods has placed great emphasis upon direct purchasing from manufacturers and internal distribution of centrally warehoused items as a means of lowering operating costs and increasing profit margins.
Whole Foods placed fifth on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the "Top 25 Green Power Partners". The company also received the EPA Green Power Award in 2004 and 2005 and Partner of the Year award in 2006 and 2007. The company plans on purchasing 458 gigawatt hours of wind energy credits. This will keep about 700 million pounds (300 t) of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. This is equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road or planting of trees.
In 1985, Whole Foods Market created its "Declaration of Interdependence", which emphasizes a stakeholder philosophy. Walter Robb, Whole Foods Market co-President, details the company's core values: "The deepest core of Whole Foods, the heartbeat, if you will, is this mission, this stakeholder philosophy: customers first, then team members, balanced with what’s good for other stakeholders, such as shareholders, vendors, the community, and the environment. If I put our mission in simple terms, it would be, No. 1, to change the way the world eats, and No. 2, to create a workplace based on love and respect. We believe business should meet the needs of all the stakeholders, as opposed to operating it for shareholders. CEO John Mackey describes how the stakeholder philosophy combines with capitalism: "We've always been unique in that we have a stakeholder philosophy, and it continues to guide us," Mackey says. "The beauty, in my opinion, of capitalism is that it has a harmony of interests. All these stakeholders are important. It is important that the owners and workers cooperate together to provide value for the customer. That's what all business is about, and I'd say that's a beautiful thing." ''
In May 1999, Whole Foods Market joined the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global independent, not-for-profit organization promoting sustainable fisheries and responsible fishing practices world-wide to help preserve fish stocks for future generations. Whole Foods Market was one of the first American companies to partner with the Marine Stewardship Council, and continues to actively support its efforts in ensuring the sustainability of the oceans. The company first began selling MSC-certified seafood in 2000, and a growing selection of MSC-certified fish continues to be available.
In 2006, Whole Foods Market became the only Fortune 500 company to offset 100 percent of its energy cost with the purchase of wind power credits. A January 8, 2007, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report listed Whole Foods Market as the second-highest purchaser of green power nationwide, citing its actions as helping drive the development of new renewable energy sources for electricity generation. The EPA report showed Whole Foods Market using 463.1 million kilowatt hours annually. It was covered, 100 percent net-wise, by its total electricity from biomass, geothermal, small-hydro, solar, and wind sources.
Whole Foods created the Animal Compassion Foundation in January 2005, a separate nonprofit organization, to help other producers evolve their practices to raise animals naturally and humanely. According to Whole Foods Natural Meat Quality Standards and Animal Compassionate Standards, pulling feathers from live ducks, bill trimming, bill heat treatment, toe punching, slitting the webs of the feet, and toe removal are all prohibited in the raising of ducks for Whole Foods Market. Any ducks treated in this manner, treated with antibiotics or antimicrobials, cloned, genetically modified, or not allowed medical treatment when necessary are to be removed from Whole Foods Market stock.
Whole Foods announced in June 2006 that it would stop selling live lobsters and crabs, but in February 2007 made an exception for a new Portland, Maine store that is able to meet humane standards. The lobsters will be kept in private compartments instead of being piled on top of one another in a tank, and employees will use a device that gives them a 110-volt shock so that they are not boiled alive in a pot of water. Whole Foods will not be selling live lobsters at its other stores because they are not close enough to the lobster grounds. This decision has been criticized by some as damaging an important New England tradition and as removing people's connection to where their food actually comes from.
In 2005, the company created two foundations designed to effect solutions to global problems. The Animal Compassion Foundation strives to improve the quality of life for farm animals and the Whole Planet Foundation works to combat poverty in rural communities around the world through microlending. In 2006, the company announced that it would be providing $10 million a year in low-interest loans to local producers. The Local Producer Loan Program provided its first loan in February 2007.
In January 2004, in California, the Environmental Working Group and the Center for Environmental Health presented a notice of intent to file an anti-toxin lawsuit against salmon producers. This was in large part due to Whole Foods' involvement, including highlighting companies' failure to warn consumers the fish contained potentially dangerous levels of cancer causing chemicals known as PCBs.
In February 2006, Shareholders of Whole Foods filed a resolution asking Whole Foods to report toxic chemicals found in its products. Substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA), found in products such as baby bottles and children’s cups, are controversial. While most manufacturers have dismissed the claims and have continued to use BPA, Whole Foods no longer sells baby bottles and children’s cups made with BPA.
In the wake of concern over the safety of seafood imports from China, on July 10, 2007, The Washington Post reported that Whole Foods imports a small amount of frozen shrimp from China, accounting for less than 2% of the company's total seafood sales. A Whole Foods spokesperson addressed the issue, saying "We're not concerned about the less than 2 percent. It's business as usual for us.
CEO John Mackey, a libertarian, makes no secret of his opposition to unions in Whole Foods. Mackey believes that unions facilitate an adversarial relationship between management and labor. An attempt at unionizing in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2002 was met with resistance from store management and Whole Foods was accused by labor activists of union busting. A 2004 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board upheld the actions of Whole Foods at the Madison store, although some workers considered its tactics unethical. Further attempts at unionizing Whole Foods Market stores have been unsuccessful. Michael Henneberry of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said they failed to attract the interest of the employees at Berkeley's Whole Foods despite rallying there for seven years.
Whole Foods was criticized for its refusal to support a campaign by the United Farm Workers (UFW) on behalf of agricultural workers laboring on strawberry farms. During the late 1990s, the UFW persuaded several large supermarket chains to sign a pledge in support of improved wages and working conditions for strawberry pickers. Whole Foods chose instead to support the farmworkers directly by holding a "National 5% Day" where five percent of that day's sales — $125,000 — were donated to organizations which provide social services to farmworkers.