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Fast Company on Whole Foods’ successful blend

Fast Company on Whole Foods’ successful blend of hard-core capitalism and social responsibility. I highly recommend this article…fascinating stuff.

Reader comments

jkottkeJul 20, 2004 at 3:28PM

Here's Whole Foods' Declaration of Interdependence. Any readers out there work for Whole Foods and care to comment?

PaulJul 20, 2004 at 5:48PM

My girlfriend works for Whole Foods (I work at Fast Company, funnily enough) and after 2 years of her working there, they still manage to floor me. Off the top of my head, some things I love about Whole Foods (besides the quality and selection of their food):

* Each dept. is given a budget towards paying their staff each week. If a team stays under budget (i.e., they work harder requiring less people to work and less people to pay) they're each given a portion of the surplus.

* Benefit hours. For every X hours they work (it escapes me now how many hours exactly) they're given 'benefit hours' which they can cash out when they're in a pinch for money.

* John Mackey signs his company-wide emails "Love, John"

* Their customer service. Something wrong with your purchase? They'll take it back, no questions asked. You don't even need to bring the product back. You don't even need a receipt! They've even been known to throw a freebie or 2 at you to make up for your troubles.

* They give me a discount, just for living with my girlfriend :)

Your mileage may vary, but they've been pretty good to my girlfriend and I over the past few years (specifically in Boston; we've only been in NY for a month or so).

ChrisJul 20, 2004 at 9:11PM

Thanks for posting these stories Jason. It is just so good to hear of companies like this in an age where so many peole say that all that matters is shareholder value.

CurtisJul 20, 2004 at 10:59PM

Mrs. Gooch's in Los Angeles was TONS better before Whole Foods took them over. The employees seemed happier and more motivated also.

KurtJul 20, 2004 at 11:32PM

Whole Foods is an interesting company. I checked out their site and found that they've bought wind generated energy to offset what the use here in Colorado. That's pretty cool. I checked out the one that just opened here... pretty pricy compared to what I'm used to.

cusheiJul 21, 2004 at 6:59AM
Html failure, sorry- that's the site about the union busting activities

PaulJul 21, 2004 at 9:45AM

Mrs. Gooch's in Los Angeles was TONS better before Whole Foods took them over. The employees seemed happier and more motivated also.

Lest you think Mrs. Gooch's was recently purchased by Whole Foods, take a look at their company timeline. Whole Foods bought Mrs. Gooch's in 1993, but it's only been recently that they've changed their brand name to Whole Foods. For all I know you've been shopping there since '93, so that may very well be what you're referring to.

But the folks in Boston had similar dissent from customers last year when they moved from the Bread and Circus brand to the Whole Foods brand. Despite the fact that they've been owned by Whole Foods since 1992, after the name change people complained that they liked the place better when it was Bread and Circus. When really, the only thing that changed was the logo on their grocery bags.

Del ShimandleJul 21, 2004 at 10:02AM

Paul, I chuckled when I read your comment/rebuttal re Mrs. Gooch's & Bread and Circus/brand transfer/customer perception. Jason, perhpas this is a thread worth delving into in a more detailed post?

JoshJul 21, 2004 at 11:27AM

Huh, that's really fascinating about the name change. For what it's worth, I've just recently discovered the Whole Foods in Cambridge, MA. We shopped there for a week or so, and then found that it was too expensive. Yet, just yesterday, I cooked a big meal using fish and produce from Shaw's -- it was nowhere near as good! I think Whole Foods might be worth the extra money.

JPJul 21, 2004 at 12:10PM

Whole Foods is really incredible. Their biggest store in D.C. (the P-Street location) is just a couple of blocks away from my office, and I grab lunch there just about every day. The staff is always very helpful, the food selection is great, and though the prices are high, the quality of the food can't be beat.

When I first moved to the District, I noticed that Whole Foods has chicken sausage. Never having eaten chicken sausage before, I asked one of the butchers how it was. As an answer, he gave me several on the house! (P.s., they're great!)

Ever since I saw this article in the (paper) magazine, I've been meaning to write up how similar the grocery store's ethics and style of operation is to my organization, Free the Slaves (a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating modern slavery). Now I can just link to it! Thanks, Jason.

Mark BeanJul 21, 2004 at 3:10PM

They should change their name to Whole Paycheck the prices are so high.

sjcJul 21, 2004 at 3:20PM

In this case, higher prices are indicative of higher quality.

CurtisJul 21, 2004 at 4:01PM

No, Paul, I started shopping at Mrs Gooch's in 1989, and the dissatisfaction with Whole Foods was wide spread as soon as they took over - Gooch's loyal customers knew the workers at their stores and watched with sadness as, one by one, the best of them departed as Whole Foods took over. I think I have a clearer knowledge of what the take over was like and how it proceeded than you do. I watched the incredible butcher department at the Studio City/Sherman Oaks store become a mere shadow of it's former self and while the quantity of wine and cheese increased, the standards of quality lowered. The worst slippage took place in produce - one could just tell that smaller growers were no longer being used and the incredibly knowledgable producemen employed by Gooch's seemed almost embarrassed until they too, all disappeared.

PaulJul 21, 2004 at 4:57PM

Curtis, I didn't mean to come off sounding like I know the situation better than you. How could I? Re-reading my comment just now it does indeed give that impression. What I should have said was: "For all I know you've been shopping there since before '93, so that take over may very well be what you're referring to. But...."

Sorry for the confusion.

Sam SheffieldJul 21, 2004 at 6:41PM

We have 2 Whole Foods here in Baltimore, both which I pass on my way to Trader Joes (Much cheaper and friendlier...) I like a lot of WF's policies and benefits, but there is a certain phony quality to their stores that I can't get over.

MarcJul 22, 2004 at 8:03PM

Its ironic that whole foods is compared in this article to walmart. The 800 pound gorilla of fancy foods beats
up on suppliers as bad as any other corportate big box giant. I know many artisinal food producers,
especially in the cheese biz, who worked very hard to have their products placed in WF, only to find out
within months that it was neither profitable nor beneficia to their long term growth.
Many producers/wholesalers have decided to focus on local,independent shops with great success.

scarabicJul 26, 2004 at 3:41PM

I live right down the street from a Whole Foods, and if their prices were a little better, I'd shop only there.

You can get decent deals if you shop carefully. We get most of our stuff from the Berkeley Bowl or Costco, but the occasional run to Whole Foods for fresh produce, baked goods, or hippie essentials rounds out our choices nicely.

I pity any family person who goes in there for two weeks of groceries, though. A full cart including cleaning and paper products will run you upward of $350, especially if you give in to any of the prepared foods, meat from the butcher counter, and absolutely anything from the "holistic remedies" shelves (not to mention the always-expensive stuff like alcohol and coffee, which is all the more expensive at WF).

Nice to have as an option, but I couldn't rely on them completely. I'd go broke.

jmhJul 27, 2004 at 2:52AM

I've shopped there-- their chocolate chip cookies are great-- but I'd never work there.
These are hypocritical bad guys-- as are most big corporate execs-- but cloaked in new age "we care about everyone" clothes.

Kind of amazing that a store that charges $5 for strawberries wants "interdependence" with everyone except unionized emplyees... the same food workers' unions that stores charging far less for strawberries seem to survive with...

Maybe the workers are better off without a union, but it's THEIR choice-- the law says they can organize if they want to, and Whole Foods seems to not believe the law. So much for interdependence.

Do some googling on Whole Foods and Madison WI unionization.
There's NY Times coverage, local indy newspaper coverage and

StephJul 28, 2004 at 7:53PM

Whole Foods's produce is ridiculously expensive. Two words: Farmer's Market. Chances are if your town has a Whole Foods, it's also got a farmer's market.

THeir meat and cheese departments, however, are top notch.

For my money, I would look to Trader Joe's when it comes to gourmet markets. Too bad they're not everywhere.

Clifton LemonJul 29, 2004 at 7:44PM

Very interesting to read the range of comments here. One thing that people may not realize about Whole Foods is that their spoilage rate is really high by grocery industry standards. Less preservatives in the food, etc. means a lot of stuff goes bad faster. This cost is obviously passed on to customers.

BurkeAug 02, 2004 at 1:09PM

Sam mentions a "phony" quality at Whole Foods which I also detect in Cambridge, MA Whole Foods. I
always pegged it more to the clientele than the staff.

VeronicaAug 03, 2004 at 1:34AM

I'm originally from the Northwest and am a big fan of Trader Joe's and PC Market of Choice. My husband and
I moved to Santa Fe last year. We have a Whole Foods and a Wild Oats. plus all the regular Smiths and
Albertsons. While I love the availability of quality foods, I simply cannot always afford the pricesat WF. Suffice to
say that Trader Joe's is opening with in a month. I will be a faithful devotee once again! I resent that basic,
quality, and healthy foods are priced so high that only the elite can afford it. Whole Foods takes care of a
privileged consumer market rampant in Santa Fe.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.