Changes ahead for Whole Foods



Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

Posted on December 27, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 27 at 12:15 PM

Earlier this month named Whole Foods the healthiest grocery chain in the country.

The company was also one of seven companies selected to join the Nasdaq 100, the 100 biggest non-financial companies traded on the Stock Exchange.

However, the Austin based grocer has its share of critics. We recently sat down to talk to the Co-CEOs about that and some of the changes you can expect to see in the coming year.

"I think there's a healthy eating revolution and we're in the very beginning stages of it," said John Mackey, Co-CEO.

From fruit to fish, Whole Foods has spawned a generation of foodies.

"Initially we just wanted to have the one store and sell healthy food to people,” said Mackey.

Mackey’s dream forever changed during the flood of 1981 just not in the way you might expect. Instead of eight feet of water closing down the business for good, it triggered an idea to expand.

"We really wanted a second store so we didn't have our eggs in a basket that could float down Shoal Creek," recalled Mackey.

Thirty years later Whole Foods now has two CEOs, more than 300 stores here and in the United Kingdom and $8 billion dollars in sales.

"A number of customers have now realized there's a connection between how they eat and their health," said Walter Robb, Co-CEO.

The company is now a household name focusing on organics and all natural foods. That’s where the critics come in. Right now there are no standards for the natural food label except when it comes to meat or poultry. Mackey and Robb recognize that and said Whole Foods had to create its own standards.

"They (natural food products) don't have artificial ingredients, flavorings, colorings, sweeteners or preservatives. They tend to be whole foods. So they may not be organic, but they're not necessarily the processed refined foods that are causing so much damage to our health," said Mackey.

Transparency will become a bigger part of the Whole Food focus in the New Year. New color coded sustainable seafood labels started earlier this year. New meat labels were just launched.

"We've been working five years on these standards,” said Robb. “They're on our website, but coming to the customer. Now the customer will be able to come to the meat case and make some good choices with full transparency with how the animals have been raised and who's producing it."

A recent survey found 27 percent of adults said natural or organic foods now make up more than a quarter of their total food purchases for the year. That’s up from 20 percent a year earlier.

Whole Foods is constantly looking for ways to boost those numbers.

You’ll begin to see some of those changes in 2011.

"We're going to do 5 wellness clubs where we're going to have intensive educational programs, a healthy dining club,” said Mackey. “Once you graduate from the club you'll get a membership card that will give you discounts on produce and other really healthy items that we sell."