Whole Foods Market; more than just a grocery store


Promoting health and running a thriving business requires a deft touch.

CEO John Mackey is helping his 62,000 employees learn how to take charge of their own health.

Last week (9-4-12), Jimmy McWilliams sent an open letter to Whole Foods Market calling for the end of meat sales in their store. Two days later, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, responded to that letter.

The key point in Mr. Mackey’s response was that eliminating meat sales at Whole Foods would not reduce meat consumption; it would just mean that their customers would be buying their meat somewhere else.

McWilliams letter began: I write with a simple, if revolutionary, idea: close all your meat counters. Every single one. Forget (for the moment) dairy and eggs and all the animal-based products dependent on systematic suffering that you believe are integral to a robust stock price. We can deal with these items later. For now, as a step toward a better future, just shut down the meat markets. Forever.

(See link below for the complete, very lengthy letter)

John Mackey, Founder & CEO of Whole Foods Market

Many other vegans & vegetarians out there might be thinking the same thing as Mr. McWilliams. But, as Mr. Mackey explains in his response, taking meat out of Whole Foods would do more harm than good.

  • First of all, Whole Foods is a publicly traded corporation and the CEO would get fired for making such a foolish move of “voluntarily committing business suicide.”
  • Secondly, it would simply mean that fewer people would shop at Whole Foods and therefore fewer people would be able to hear the healthy eating message that Mr. Mackey and his associates are promoting.
  • Finally, more animals would suffer because those lost Whole Foods meat sales would now be enjoyed by grocers who don’t embrace the animal welfare standards of WFM.

As a business professional and an activist for more whole, plant-based foods, I am a big fan of Whole Foods Market and John Mackey. Sure, the majority of their “calories sold” are not health-promoting, but the “healthy eating message” can be seen throughout their store. And I applaud Mr. Mackey’s very thoughtful response back to Mr. McWilliams; provided here in its entirety:

Dear Jimmy,

In response to your open letter, Whole Foods Market has no plans to stop selling meat and poultry…or seafood, eggs and dairy items for that matter. Our work in the world of animal welfare makes a difference in the way hundreds of millions of farm animals are raised every year. It supports a network of several thousand hardworking farmers and ranchers who are improving the welfare of livestock animals.

Giving up on our initiative at this point won’t slow the rate of animals being processed and it won’t encourage Whole Foods Market’s carnivore customers to stop eating meat. It will simply shift purchases of meat to other retailers, to those that have not invested millions of dollars and many years of hard work to ensure that animals are raised with care and respect, and slaughtered with a minimum amount of stress. Whole Foods Market isn’t selling humanely raised animals simply because they are eventually killed for food. That is not true.

Also, for you to suggest that selling meat is only about the bottom line at our company simply is not true either. Our first stakeholder is our customer and the most of them purchase and eat meat. As a mission driven company, it’s our job to offer high quality choices to our discerning customers to accommodate their food preferences.

We are committed to prompting real change in the meat industry. And, as you point out, we are also working hard to help educate consumers about the importance of incorporating more whole plant foods–primarily vegetables, grains, beans and fruits– into their diets, which as a result means less meat consumption. As you know, we have many more vegan and vegetarian shoppers than conventional grocers, but the vast majority of our customers purchase animal foods. At the most, about 10 percent of our customers are strict vegetarians and probably around three percent are strict vegans. To not offer a full array of food options is basically suggesting that we voluntarily commit business suicide.

To give you perspective, Safer Way in Austin was a strictly vegetarian store and our sales were low. When we relocated the store, changed the name to Whole Foods Market and began selling meat, our popularity blossomed in the Austin community and our sales increased by 15 times.

By expanding our offerings to all types of foods including meat products, we were able spread awareness of natural and organic alternatives and grow over time to 340 stores in three countries. We have gone to great efforts to improve our animal welfare processes and we have made great progress. We provide transparency at the meat counters through farm traceability and Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating system. We would like to offer you the opportunity to visit a few of our ranchers and farmers who have achieved high animal welfare ratings, meaning they have cleared more than 100 hurdles for humane treatment above and beyond what conventional producers do!

Let me know if you are interested in touring some farms.As we continue to grow, we are uniquely positioned to affect animal welfare across the nation and around the world. We pledge to continuously help promote real and positive change for farm animals. To do so, we must commit to significantly improving the meat industry rather than abandoning it altogether.Thanks for your perspective. We have long respected your work and we appreciate your patronage, thoughtful insights, and you being a champion of our brand.

Sincerely, John Mackey, Co-Founder & Co-CEO

You can purchase this book at every Whole Foods store; bet you won’t find it at the Big Y or any other major grocery chain.

And there’s much more to the Whole Foods Story. In my earlier blog about the company provided below, I shared a story that most Americans have never heard—the story about teaching employees and helping them learn how to take charge to their health. From that blog:

“From my perspective, the big story in this video is that it features a prominent CEO—taking personal responsibility for the health and welfare of his employees. John Mackey has been a vegan since he was a young man but has only recently learned the complete truth about nutrition. Like myself, he learned it from the same medical professionals featured in our book.”

And here’s what he said about The China Study on Amazon: 

“The most important book on health, diet and nutrition ever written. Its impact will only grow over time and it will ultimately improve the health and longevity of tens of millions of people around the world.” 

Daily Blog # 585

One more thing, with the exception of our book, this entire kit below can be purchased at all of the Whole Foods stores. Why not ask for our book at your favorite WFM? Our book is all about leadership and I’m sure Mr. Mackey would like it.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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Blogging daily at hpjmh.com…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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7 Responses to Whole Foods Market; more than just a grocery store

  1. Robert Thatcher says:

    I have a lot of respect for Whole Foods innovative wellness programs – and support of the proven WFPB nutritional solutions you and others advocate (solutions that have been transformational for me personally). At the same time, I am a bit alarmed at what I’ve heard about John Mackey and hoping it’s not true. From Wikipedia (maybe not the best source) “…Mackey told me that he agrees with the book [ Heaven and Earth ]’s assertion that, as he put it, “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change; he added, with a candor you could call bold or reckless, that it would be a pity to allow “hysteria about global warming” to cause us “to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty.” My initial thought is that people are complicated, and for our world to move forward, we’ve got to embrace/see the good (like the work Mackey is doing for employee wellness) and realize he’s probably not right about everything. Thanks for all you do. Robert

  2. JM says:

    Too bad Whole Foods also is not supporting the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) lableing as much as they should. They only support it in word, but still sell many of the products (Cascadian Farms, SILK, Kashi) that currently are donating money to kill GMO labeling in California. It’s a fine line between keeping customers, Monsanto-loving vendors, and staying in business.

  3. Robbie says:

    You are an amazing opportunist! Seriously, I am amazed by you!
    What we must always remember…What goes around comes around.

  4. MikeR says:

    The nearest Whole Foods is about 100 miles from here, as is the nearest Trader Joes (though there are Aldis aplenty here. Aldis owns Trader Joes). I buy my food from the farmers’ market, the co-op and the local national chain grocery. I see tons of posts on various plant-strong blogs promoting Whole Foods, but still none in the second-largest city in Indiana (pop 250,000).

  5. Denise Welsh says:

    Wish there was a Whole Foods in my area….

  6. soxfan4 says:

    True – it would be business suicide to abandon animal products but I would have a very difficult time selling such products and enabling the system. Let’s face it: despite how they are raised, they are still eventually killed for the supper table. At the end of the day, it still all boils down to money. Sad.

  7. Bernadine T. Shea says:

    Jim,
    Outstanding blog – as usual! Whole Foods is one of my favorites as well as Trader Joe’s. Just
    shopped at both in Framingham, MA about a week ago. Thanks for all the great info you share
    everyday!!!!!!!! Bernadine

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