119 Comments

Comments

Jessica says ...
I agree that this would be a interesting discussion if WFM was actually supporting local produce in Minnesota. The WFM here thinks that local is shipping in from Chicago IL., a state that we don't even border on! The Produce dept looks beautifull and bountiess but it is all from down south or California. IT"S NOT LOCAL. Amazingly enough the Co Op's do have local stuff, so it's out there...
07/12/2006 9:16:42 AM CDT
Damien says ...
I live in Bloomington, IN, so Whole Foods (or what I'd want more, Trader Joe's) are theoretical to me. But some comments: John: your GNI/capita for Argentina really surprised me. I checked the World Bank site and yeah, see numbers like that, but also that their number has fallen by half over the last five years. This while the CIA World Factbook has them at $13,000 GDP/capita, with 9% growth. I think something's funny going on with exchange rate corrections. On local food or not: I get the emotional appeal and environmental logic of locally grown, and I get what I can from my farmer's market and the local co-op or organicy stores. That said, I remember that most of human history has had purely local food, and that this leaves you hostage to local weather. Large-scale trade in energy and water, or their products, food, lets us average out local variations and is a big win in avoiding famines. Also, I really like citrus, dates, and bananas. Hard to grow those locally. Back to John: Does "pasture-raised" in the new guidelines mean "they eat grass"? Like "access to pasture", one can still envision animals which are allowed to roam around but are fed big piles of grain. Have you considered a "100% grass-fed" product line as well, along with the animals which are still finished on grain?
07/12/2006 6:43:10 PM CDT
Neal McBurnett says ...
John, you've asked twice now for Pollan to give you more credit for Whole Food's work on the "organic" front. This demonstrates that you're missing major aspects of his most excellent book. It's not about organic, its about perspective and diversity of opinion. His goal is to tell the truth about where our food comes from, and to encourage people to make their own informed choices based on that knowledge. He's generally promoting education and diversity, rather than picking winners. He points out that globalized "industrial organic" is sometimes in conflict with localized markets and bottom-line environmental benefits. Yes there are many huge benefits in what you've done. Congratulations! And Pollan says many good things about Whole Foods. But there are costs to your approach also. So don't expect everyone else to believe that your way is the only way to a sustainable future! Don't repeatedly demand that he trumpet the way you've grown the "organic" approach. Remember not everyone thinks it should be preferred to "local", and many even think it is actually government regulation headed in the wrong direction. And don't castigate a journalist for doing a great job letting people know about some of the complexity and diversity of the choices out there! For example, you explain the challenges of satifying customers that want to buy asparagus in January and beef in the spring. You are of course free to serve that market, and there may be benefits for other countries. But don't criticize Pollan for informing consumers what a terrible habit that is, and how much more sustainable it is to live off the seasonal bounty of their own bioregion. And don't take rude jabs at "fringe" coop markets that have been struggling to get that particular point across for decades. At the same time, thanks for working hard to address many important issues. Neal McBurnet
07/12/2006 9:26:57 PM CDT
Valerie Ross says ...
I arrived at this blog after reading a snarky column this morning by Joe Nocera in the Business Section of NY Times, in which Nocera maintains that Mackey's emphasis throughout is on value, because WF's customers are value-driven -- which is to say, we shop at WF because it makes us feel good about ourselves in some fashion (as vegans, or animal rights people, or parents feeding our children good food, or people who care about local or third world farmers, or the environment, or people who like to think they're eating high quality food). Nocera's is a weird argument, suggestive of the way in which late capitalism has appropriated and sullied ethics itself: so that to have "values" and to act upon them is itself objectionable! Frightening, and insidious (one hears the same argument about community service: "she's only doing it to make herself feel good": the implication, unquestioned, being that doing things that make you feel good is a bad thing, or at least is a bad thing if what you are doing is in some way good for others). But I digress. What I wanted to say is that this exchange between Mr. Pollan and Mr. Mackey, as well as many of the others who posted here, is inspiriting: the exchange of ideas and information, the opportunity to actually discuss (with civiity) our shared and differing interests and concerns, the possibility of finding a position across differences that we can live with--if not necessarily reach full consensus on--and the possibiity that this exchange might actually mean something -- have a real effect -- thanks to Mr. Mackey's willingness to test his own position, respond to rather than spin Mr. Pollan's work, and lo and behold a person who is in a position to effect change: how often does that happen? Between this and Warren Buffett's redistribution of wealth (let's hope Bill Gates doesn't squander the opportunity: where's his blog?) well, maybe there's reason to hope. I am by the way a WF shopper, have been for ten years, and for all the reasons Nocera suggests -- to which I will now add another: this blog, rich with promise.
07/15/2006 8:41:15 AM CDT
Shankar Ramaswamy says ...
Dear John, My family and I have been ardent and enthusiastic supporters of the organic foods movement and Whole foods for several years now and have cheerfully paid a premium for our groceries. We have been ridiculed by our extended families and friends for being so foolish as to spend so much more on groceries. However, our belief in the organic farming ideals and our trust in the system have kept us going. Of late, our trust in the system has definitely been wearing down. The USDA organic label is definitely not something we trust because we know these standards were influenced by big money. The high margins enjoyed by Organic products are clearly attracting large corporations driven by one thing and one thing only - the bottomline. These guys pretending to truly care about organic farming is all hogwash. While we recognize the historic significance of Whole Foods and its role in promoting organic farming, our trust in your brand has seriously eroded - we see you as beholden to Wall Street and not to us the customers. For example, I do not see why you continue to sell Horizon products - in fact, I can no longer find Organic Valley milk at our local Whole foods. All this has caused us to seriously lower the level of shopping we do at Whole foods. We used to regulary spend $1000-$1200 a month at our local Whole foods; lately, we spend maybe $200-$400 there. We now patronize a local co-op and a regional Organic grocer who we trust much more than Whole foods. If you are taking steps to address concerns of customers like us, then you are not doing job of communicating what these steps and how they mitigate our concerns. Regards, shankar
07/15/2006 9:41:09 AM CDT
Ashley says ...
John Mackey, I could easily write you a pages upon pages of my gratitude to you, but I figure you're considered one of the top CEOs out there, you may want something more direct and brief. I live in New Orleans, and I work in the bakery at the Arabella Station. Although, our store could not begin to compete with your Austin, Lamar, and Manhatten locations in beauty and perhaps even in consistency at times, we are a major focal point in New Orleans' uptown community. We were the first grocery store to open post-Katrina in the uptown area, which meant a lot to the locals. A Katrina-victim myself, I wanted to thank you for all that you've provided me. I lost my home. I lost a year out of my undergrad college career, but thanks to Terek (our store team leader) and you (the most humble, rich hippie around), you've provided me an opportunity to rebuild my life. My friends at Whole Foods and the positive work environment (in comparison to what's available to college students in the area), as well as feeling like an asset to the rebuilding process of my beloved city, has motivated me and inspired me in ways that have changed me into a stronger person. You may have recieved thanks from us down here before, but it's been over half a year, and we're still in the beginning of the aftermath in so many ways... and I felt compelled to let you know how much easier you're making it for so many us out here. So much of the familiarity of my life before the storm is gone. My one concern when getting home was to return to work to see people I hadn't see in months, to occupy myself from thinking about my loss, and also to merely know that the only job I've ever looked forward to was still there for me when I got back. It followed through. If you ever find your way to New Orleans, you'll probably recieve quite the overwhelming welcoming. Thank you! Much love from the Arabella Station, still going strong(er)! Ashley
07/16/2006 6:22:59 AM CDT
Deborah Howard says ...
John: I have problems with a true vegan making money from the lives of animals. Killing animals, including fish, for consumption is wrong from an ethical standpoint. So, perhaps you are only a vegan for health reasons. When your store first opened in Fort Collins, CO, I was disgusted by the live lobsters and shocked that you would even consider selling them. And they were situated near the produce area. I couldn't even look in the direction of the seafood section. At least, you came to your senses on this issue. What I really have a problem with - and I should mention that I travel all over the country and have been to numerous Whole Food stores - is the horrible waste of produce. In an attempt to create a "farmers market," your stores pile up way too much produce, and most of it is overpriced. I don't know how many times I have discovered moldy fruit either before or after purchase. In fact, one time, I didn't see the very small black spots on raspberries and my mouth swelled almost all the way shut (I am allergic to mold). And most people, unless they live in sophisticated culinary cities like L.A., San Francisco or NY, aren't familiar with unusual items like heirloom tomatoes. It really bothers me to watch these beautiful tomatoes become mushy. I can't even begin to imagine how many get tossed. So, the truth is: you have too much produce; it is overpriced; it doesn't turn over quickly enough and therefore has to thrown out. Even if you are composting all this produce, which I doubt your stores are doing, it is a horrible waste of food. Sincerely, Deborah A Howard President Companion Animal Protection Society
07/16/2006 1:58:26 PM CDT
PHM says ...
Dear Mr. Mackey, I gather from your excellent exchange with Mr. Pollan that WFM is moving towards offering grassfed meat. I am in the middle of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and bought my first grassfed meats recently; however, I'm paying $55 to have a couple pounds of chuck and 2 6 oz. filets fed-ex'd to my house. I just shopped at the St. Louis WFM today and the meat counter clerk that WFM does not carry grassfed meat. Sounds like that may change soon. I hope so! Thanks in advance for making it happen. You, sir, are a credit to the captains of capitalism. Perhaps WFM's success will cause more corporate chiefs to care as deeply about their companies' impact on the environment and humanity. All the best.
07/16/2006 4:49:31 PM CDT
John Mackey says ...
Hi Shankar Ramaswamy, Some clarifications: 1. If you want to purchase Organic Valley at our stores, simply buy our private label. Organic Valley is the brand name of CROPP Cooperative. 100% of our organic private label milk for our 365 Organic line comes from CROPP (which is the exact same network of farmers that Organic Valley uses). See the CROPP website for more information: http://www.farmers.coop/ 2. I'm sorry you've lost your trust in Whole Foods Market and now prefer shopping at co-ops and other natural food stores. I'm not sure, however, why you no longer trust our company as we continue to fulfill our mission statement and core values as faithfully today as we did 26 years ago when Whole Foods began with our first store in Austin. 3. Regarding Horizon Organic Dairy products, I want to share with you the report Margaret Wittenberg wrote after our recent visit to Horizon's large company owned farm in Idaho in May. Margaret, Walter Robb, and myself carefully toured this farm that has been the subject of so much criticism by organic activists. I agree 100% with Margaret's report: Organic Dairy Inspection May 2006 We’ve all been inundated with passionate emails and “press releases” from The Cornucopia Institute and The Organic Consumer Association, making a variety of negative accusations about Horizon as a large scale, factory feedlot dairy farm and urging the boycott of Horizon dairy products. Interestingly enough, none of the accusers have ever actually visited Horizon’s Idaho facility. So, to finally set the record straight, John Mackey, Walter Robb, and I went to Horizon’s Idaho dairy farm, the operation most hotly being criticized, on May 15th to see for ourselves. Here’s what we found: Horizon Dairy The Horizon dairy includes grazing pasture, milking parlor, loafing sheds with exercise area, maternity/dry cow area (where cows getting ready to give birth are staged and monitored), heifer raising pastures, a large compost site, and cropland where they raise most of their forage crops that uses the compost developed on site. All Horizon cows have daily access to pasture. Their heifers graze on pasture all day long and each of their lactating cows is on pasture but only for a couple hours per day. The pasture was of very good quality and their commitment to quality pasture is underscored with their engagement with the “Holistic Grazing Management” program started last fall. This program, based on the innovative work of Allan Savory, is based on the concept that grazing animals and grasses are symbiotic. Using a whole farm/whole system approach, including an intensive pasturing schedule, the grazing system emulates how buffalo used to graze on prairie land in which the animals graze in a small area for a day or two, making sure the plants aren’t taken down to far, and are then moved into the next paddock to allow the grass to recover more quickly. When managed holistically, bio-diversity and soil cover is increased, grazing days and forage are increased, water retention and depth is improved, nutrient cycling is improved, and animals are healthier. When the lactating cows are not on pasture or being milked, they are in the loafing shed/exercise area which consists of a an open-air, covered loafing shed lined with fresh bedding that is changed daily, surrounded by an exercise area for the cows to move around or just hang out. Additional exercise includes walking to and fro to the pasture paddock as well as walking to the milking parlor a couple times a day. All the cows looked very healthy. It was very evident they were comfortable around people—one of the gauges of quality of care and health— as they all came up to surround us and the vehicles we drove into the pastures when we got out of the truck to look at them and the pasture. All the key workers live on site in company-provided housing to ensure 24/7 care and attentiveness. Another example of excellent care is that they check their calving cows every 40 minutes around the clock, considered one of the most critical times of a cow’s life. Beginning in September all their replacement heifers will be born and raised on site. While, overall, we were pleasantly surprised that what we saw at Horizon’s Idaho dairy was very different than what their detractors claimed, there’s no question that their lactating cows should have the opportunity for more access to pasture, extending the couple hours to all day. At this time the National Organic Standards don’t officially require anything other than the non-committal “access to pasture”, but Whole Foods Market has been very public with our support, including our presentation at the USDA’s recent organic dairy symposium, of the National Organic Standards Board’s proposal to create more stringent, explicit standards that specify that organic dairy is truly pasture-based. Ironically, Horizon’s opponents never mention that Horizon, too, has supported the NOSB’s proposals and have had that message on their website for months. In terms of putting verbal and written support into practice, the good news is that Horizon has already purchased and seeded double the land so that all cows will be able to graze simultaneously during the growing season. A completely separate second state-of-the-art dairy is also being constructed so Horizon will have two milking parlors on their Idaho dairy site to accommodate a comfortable walking distance for all their lactating cows. They also intend to use this new dairy as a training facility for their family farmers to visit and get additional ideas. Other background important to know: A little publicized fact from those who criticize Horizon is that 80% of their organic milk supply is from 340 family farms, with 200 more family farms they are helping with the transition to organic. They have a dedicated staff that works 1-on-1 with all their organic and transitioning to organic family farms through a program they call HOPE (Horizon Organic Producer Education). Related to this program, throughout the last 5 years they have contributed $15-20 million in financial assistance to help with education and greater awareness to their family farmers about organic agriculture, guidance through transition and certification, and assistance with helping improve and develop best practices through the assistance of dairy and land conservations experts. All, in all, John, Walter, and I believe the sale of Horizon organic dairy products remains as an acceptable, good option for our stores and regions to consider if it works within the region’s organic dairy set plans. End of the report. I want to conclude this post by saying that some of the concern by organic activists regarding factory farm organic dairies is solidly grounded. There are in existence some "organic" factory farm dairies in production today that have no real commitment to either animal welfare or pasture access. They are simply commercial dairies using organic feed. Whole Foods remains passionately opposed to these types of organic factory farms and we do not buy any milk from these farms (although many of our competitors do). Whole Foods has been both vocal and active in lobbying for much stricter standards concerning pasture access for all organic dairy cows. In addition, in 2007 we will create our animal compassion standards for dairy cows and the pasture requirements under this standard will be far, far higher than any organic standards anywhere in the world.
07/16/2006 11:10:23 PM CDT
Pattie says ...
Joe Nocera's column in this past Saturday's New York Times raised some interesting questions about "the organic cause" and whether or not large retailers, including Whole Foods, are helping or hurting the organic cause. The column includes details about an exchange between Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. The issue at hand is that the popularity of organics has caused the proliferation of large-scale commercial farms, albeit organic, plus the increase in importation of organic produce. I'd like to make a couple comments about this issue. 1. Maintaining "the nature and spirit of organics" is an unfair burden to place on retailers who are responding to market demand for what consumers want--which is increasingly organics. Certified organic is now a legal term that includes certain requirements. Local is not one of them. If you want your organic food to be local (which reduces transport time, increases the ability for diversity, decreases fuel use, and provides a positive impact to the local economy), then you have to demand that. If you want the organic label to include a local or small farm component, then you have to fight for it, or help in the development of a "beyond organics" labeling option. 2. Whole Foods has done wonders, and I admire John Mackey's commitment to responding to consumers--it was through an exchange with a determined activist about the treatment of ducks that caused Mackey to launch the now-established Animal Compassion Program at Whole Foods. I believe that if we as consumers demand more local produce at Whole Foods, Mackey will find a way to provide it. Ask. And make it clear that by local, you don't mean from three states away. You mean local. Within your foodshed. Mr. Mackey, if you are reading this, please know that people are pushing you not because you haven't already done so much good but because they know you are the rare combination of idealist and entrepreneur who can truly make things happen. And Mr. Nocera, thank you for raising awareness about the many issues intertwined in the commercialization of organics.
07/17/2006 10:53:55 AM CDT
CHARLES M says ...
This blog is so interesting, one of the revelations by John is actually having a copy cat effect by WFM competition and wonder if Micheal is being used to get WFM marketing strategies: The competitor just revealed its sourcing strategy which is more of what was discussed under this blog: http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/ticker/article.asp?ID=5869421&Feed=PR&Date=20060717
07/17/2006 3:59:44 PM CDT
Josh says ...
Mr. Mackey: Thanks for this excellent and thought provoking discussion. I'm very impressed with your willingness to respond to criticism, and think it's a unique asset for your company. While I agree and admire most of what you say, however, I do have a few questions and issues about your reply. First, you don't directly answer Pollan's questions. He asks you, "As a percentage of sales (rather than of vendors), how much of the produce sold at Whole Foods is produced locally?" Your reply to the section with this question is 814 words long and addresses issues of the size and nature of the farms and is quite interesting, but I don't think you answered the question. I think it's a fair one...perhaps I just didn't see your specific reply. So what's the number? Same for Pollan's second question, "is there anyone, at the regional level, charged with the specific mission of locally sourcing as much food as possible? And do Whole Foods buyers have the authority to pay a premium for local produce, in the same way they now routinely pay a premium for organic?" This reply is a laundry list of Whole Foods affiliated local farms in the Bay Area, but again, there's no simple answer to the question. Judging by the fact that these questions aren't addressed until the "exciting new initiatives" section, presumably the answer is, "at the time of your writing, no there weren't. But that's a good point and one that we're addressing." Finally, you take Pollan to task for not contacting you before criticizing you and write (somewhat condescendingly) about subjectivity and bias. But you use an approach very similar to his in your discussion on Horizon Dairy. I confess to knowing next to nothing about the controversy, but do you think that representatives from Whole Foods are the best people to determine whether or not Horizon Dairy is treating their animals well? Presumably Whole Foods makes a good deal of money from sales of Horizon's products, and have an interest in seeing healthy, happy cows. From your post on the issue, it seems like you relied on your visit to Horizon, some background information from other sources, and your vast expertise and experience to come up with a view that was unbiased as possible. This seems similar to what you negatively characterize Pollan doing in his book. Did you contact the activists to get their side of the story before writing your post? Given what I know about you from your writing on this blog, I can decide that I can trust your observations despite any biases, and I feel people can make that same choice about Pollan's characterization of Whole Foods given the context of his book. Thanks again for the discussion. I'm a Whole Foods customer and will continue to be. I just think that the issues raised in this post are valid and worth answering in a straightforward manner.
07/17/2006 9:00:28 PM CDT
Tracy says ...
John, Wow, what a mouthgasmic exchange! I briefly returned to the philosophical contemplation that plants must experience emotion. The two of you are so passionate about food, agriculture, and the culture of consumption you instantaneously gave all food EGO and a sense of vulnerability that is immeasureable. A brief visit to your blog has given me a newfound appreciation of what Whole Foods lives and breaths. Never in 14 years working for the competition have I seen or experienced this type of open and authentic quest for the truth and its impact on our ever EXPANDING corn syrup culture. It's apparent that you completely understand that vulnerability leads to trust. I happened upon this deligthful morsel as I was perusing your job postings (I will continue to peruse). Keep feeding your essence, it's growing up quite nicely....I trust you a little more because you are willing to expose yourself and I probably won't be so focused on the displays, # of organics, price, merchandising techniques, fixtures, signage, or occasional body odor. I probably won't fall back my subjective retail experience as my only reference point. I will simply bring to my SHOPPING EXPERIENCE my expectations, beliefs, biases, world views, and my check card; as these serve as perceptual filters that tremendously influence my purchases and now I just feel like shopping with you! You said it yourself - your essence, your leadership, your company has paved the way for organics thus enabling more of us to choose organic. You are in a sense the leader of the reformation and I thank you!! Tracy
07/17/2006 11:17:13 PM CDT
Chris Adams says ...
As a New Zealander I wanted to offer my comments on the issue of the sustainability, economics and ethics of sourcing produce from overseas countries such as New Zealand. Sustainable production, minimal impact on the environment and a global food marketplace are not mutually exclusive. New Zealand agriculture enjoys an ideal, temperate climate where little irrigation is required, there are strong environmental protections, animals are grass fed outdoors year round and cropping is maximized without the need of genetic engineering. The country also has the smallest level of distorting farmer support, subsidies or tariff protections in the developed world. Indeed buying beef or produce from New Zealand may not only offer a better price and quality - but is likely better on the environment that purchasing the same product from just down the road where irrigation is required, animals need to be housed in doors in winter and the farmer is subsidized or protected to stay in business. The difference in shipping the crop across the world is likely to be a relatively insignificant impact relative to these broader production issues. In the regard local farming does not necessarily mean better or sustainable farming. Finally and without a hint of bias I can also say that Kiwis are nice people and we need the work ! Chris Adams.
07/18/2006 12:29:11 AM CDT
Phil Oppenheim says ...
Thank you for posting this...fascinating.
07/18/2006 10:05:49 PM CDT
John Mackey says ...
Hi Josh, 1. We don't know the exact percentage of local produce we sell in our stores. Produce that is bought locally doesn't have the same tracking mechanisms established that nationally sourced produce does. We know how many produce suppliers we have that are local, but we don't know exactly how much we are selling from each one because that information doesn't roll up. We don't have the "categories" currently established to track local versus national or global. This is an Information Systems challenge that we are working to correct. 2. The answer to your second question is that we are in the process of changing job descriptions and responsibilities to make sure that there are designated team members responsible for sourcing local product. They will be empowered to buy directly from local farmers. They will seek to buy as competitively as possible in order to get the best prices possible for our customers. 3. Regarding your third point: I have talked to a number of organic activists regarding organic dairy (and other organic issues). I'm well aware of "their side of the story" regarding Horizon. I also heard Horizon's side of the story. I then went and looked for myself and drew my own conclusions. I honestly don't know what more I could have done. I have no attachment or bias towards Horizon as a company. If Horizon was actually operating the organic factory farms that it has been criticized for operating then I would say so and Whole Foods would transition away from Horizon. We don't need to sell Horizon. There are other organic dairy suppliers we buy from. As I have already pointed out, there are organic factory farm dairies in operation that violate the spirit of the organic dairy standards. I've seen them. I don't like them and Whole Foods doesn't buy from them. Horizon doesn't fall into this category in my opinion. They are being unfairly attacked in my opinion. I believe the company has a sincere commitment to having their cows on pasture and ensuring animal welfare. I don't think Horizon is guilty of any crimes simply because they are a large and successful corporation. Neither success nor the corporate form of organization are crimes in my ethics. In contrast to my talking to various organic activists, Horizon leadership, and investigating Horizon in person, Pollan didn't talk to Whole Foods leadership. He didn't actually seek to understand "our side of the story". That is a simple fact not really open to dispute or alternative interpretation. I'm sorry if you think I was condescending in criticizing Pollan. That certainly wasn't my intention. I think my comments on this subject are both fair and accurate.
07/19/2006 4:01:46 PM CDT
Josh says ...
Mr. Mackey: I really appreciate you answering my questions and found your responses fair, straightforward, and convincing. It seems like you've helped to create consumers who demand to know more about the products they buy. I hope that you take it as a measure of success that people are asking tough questions of you and Whole Foods, and I can't tell you how admirable I think it is that you're willing to hold yourself up to the scrutiny you've helped to foster. Best, and thanks again for this discussion, Josh
07/19/2006 8:27:41 PM CDT
Elizabeth McInerney says ...
Whole Foods has developed a reputation for excellence by banning artifical colors, flavors, lobster, tacky magazines, etc, from stores. Why not ban animal products from producers who fail to meet YOUR compassionate animal standards as well? I fail to buy the comparison to your decision to offer both conventional and organic produce/grains. You do not offer products containing artifical colors side-by-side with those containing natural colors. I can't imagine a better way to promote pasture-based farms than to give them exclusive access to your customer base. And if doing so creates temporary shortages, certainly a vegan such as John Mackey is in a postion to promote/offer temporary alternatives (there are no alternatives to produce and grains). There is no question in my mind that a stand for pasture-based farming is worth the financial risk (real or imagined) to your organization. Only one question remains. Do you have the courage to take it?
07/19/2006 9:22:23 PM CDT
Chuck Hawks says ...
I must say that this has been quite the interesting dialog and I appreciate the authors' (John and Michael) willingness for open and candid discussion. And one to which my post has gotten just as long as any of yours, John, now that I look at it in "Preview"... LOL We do not have a WFM in the Charlotte, NC area (yet - I recently heard there is a possibility now) and aside from the cultural and stereotypical slander on the "Whole Paycheck" theme, I have until now (having spent several hours on this site reading letters and posts) been grossly ignorant to the WFM model, mission and philosophy. With that being said John, I formally request that you do come to the Charlotte market (especially the South Charlotte area!) as my wife and I will not only be shoppers/supporters, we will be advocates, actively marketing your store and philosophy to all we can when appropriate. I am very impressed with what I see. It is intriguing to me that what we now call "organic farming food supplication" is basically what we as a species came from. The fact that it is now (apparently way) more expensive to produce food products in a 'natural' way (vs. a mass produced, chemically and/or genetically engineered way) is quite the ironic travesty that only a society as modern, self-centered and short-sighted as ours could possibly create. Welcome to mass consumerism, big business, and huge populations I suppose, eh? The fact that John, WFM, Michael and others like them are creating such integral approaches to solving the woes manifested by such consumerism is beyond promising... it's quite heartening. I applaud you. Especially your integral vision into creating such solutions as the growing WFM model, John. Should you read this - if you are not already familiar with the work of Ken Wilber, Integral Institute, and others who play in that realm, I highly suggest you check them out as I think you will like what you find. Ken's got tons of books, blogs, etc. to his credit or based on his work - just Google him, or contact me and I can point you in the appropriate direction for your interests, should you desire. My point is I know of few who look at their industry from such a broad viewpoint or altitude and actually GET INVOLVED at a global level. It is all too easy to recognize the problems at that scope and then pine for a solution or implementation without acting upon that recognition, potentially waiting for someone else to do it instead. You sir, appear to be one of those in action. That gains my respect and loyalty as a consumer, a constituent, and fellow human being. The fact that you have been able to take the WFM model this far and thrive as a business is nothing short of amazing. And no, corporations are NOT a bad thing! They are a GREAT thing when led properly, ethically and responsibly. From a business standpoint, I would encourage you to welcome competition in your space. Collaborate with what may appear as 'competition', for it is only through such collaboration that GLOBAL change will occur. The more grocery chains who actually jump on the proverbial bandwagon that you seem to be so deftly guiding, the better! The more in the model, the more consumers that actually get served and raise the awareness of other consumers, formulating a shift in consumerism as a whole and thereby benefiting ALL and the planet itself. And incidentally, I mean way bigger than providing space for parking lot farmers' markets (which, by the way IS over-the-top commitment - I almost fell out of my chair when I read that! INCREDIBLE - THANK YOU!!!) I mean fostering a change in the way our food is supplied across the board by inviting others to play in your space. I know you think about and stand for changing the way agribusiness gets done. What if your 'competition' did too? If just three more major grocery chains implemented the integrity and dedication to local/organic food production and delivery that you/WFM do, what difference would that make in this country's food production model overall? What difference would it make in the health of our citizens? What difference would it make on the agriculture industries that supply groceries like yours with products (globally?) It's not my intention to propose to take money out of your coffers - you have a business to run, indeed. Simply to state that change en-mass only occurs when change agents amass. Through collaborative-competition models, you CAN throw out the stale bath water AND keep the clean baby. :-) Again, I applaud what you stand for, what you've created, where you're headed, and your willingness to let us all in on your thoughts and conversations with others who are as committed to making a difference in what ever way they see is appropriate. With greatest appreciation (and anticipation for your arrival in my area!), Chuck Hawks
07/19/2006 11:20:35 PM CDT
Chuck Hawks says ...
OK, I just found your keynote. Too funny! Integral seemed so familiar because it was... Fantastic concept for a keynote! I would love to have seen the look on the faces of your audience before, during and after the delivery of such a presentation. Being a professional speaker myself, I have to admit that seeing that transition from the front of the room is one of the greater joys of my life. I am impressed that you view your company as being at a yellow vMEME. Wow. That's about all I can say for now. It is great to see yet another powerful company with integral-aware leadership. A very good thing, indeed. If there is any way I can support you in your mission John, please do not hesitate to contact me. It would be an honor to work with you as your Coach (what I do.) This is not intended as an ad, as it's always an honor to work with someone who understands where I'm coming from. It just came out while I was typing... It's not my intent to solicit my business but to honor yours. Please build a store in the Balantyne area of Charlotte - hint, hint! :-) Now THAT's a solicitation & a request! LOL Cheers & Be Well, C
07/20/2006 11:12:38 PM CDT
hugh schick says ...
As a private chef in Marin County, CA I cater to the a uniquely wealthy clientele that demands gourmet cuisine prepared from the freshest ingredients. As this blog illustrates, there is no shortage of exquisite organic ingredients / farms in the area; in fact, I have never lived anywhere with a more astounding food supply. Whole Foods is, without question, my favorite chain in which to shop for these clients. The produce is of consistently high quality. I applaud Mr. Mackey's effort and vision in providing consumers with a superior if occasionally more expensive option (you get what you pay for). I have a few comments to interject in this debate that grow out of my years as a chef and my fascination with all matters related to food sourcing. Beyond wasting fuel on long-distance importation and bypassing local asparagus growers, another consideration needs to come into play in choosing suppliers for Whole Foods or for that matter, any grocer regardless of size. The primary concern of the consumer that opts to pay a premium for organic food is health. Garbage in, garbage out, or conversely, eat well and prosper. Most devotees of the Whole Foods lifestyle know that eating well makes you feel more energetic, calmer, and healthier. In organic products, they expect more vitality, purity, superior flavor, and freshness that at least rivals if not surpasses that of the non-organic alternatives . Before the huge corporate takeover or lack thereof that ruined / saved the organics industry (kidding...you guys can argue that one all day ), you might remember that a lot of organic produce available for public consumption was hideous, wooden, and/or deformed in appearance and devoid of flavor. I always assumed that this was because demand had not (yet) reached critical mass .... organics were percieved as being for ascetics and weirdos with food "issues." I only eat sushi (sorry vegetarians / vegans, please bear with me) if the place I'm going looks really busy....otherwise I assume the same type of thing. If there's not sufficient demand for a product, it can't be purchased fresh enough for me to want to eat it (or serve it). Today, thanks to the excellent work of Mr. Mackey and WFM, the volume of organics sold is now sufficient to guarantee that the supply (at least of popular fruits/vegetables like greens and carrots) is of a quality, texture, and flavor that rival the non-organic alternatives. Which brings us back to sourcing. Let's remember the reason people buy organics: to feel good. To be healthy. Because they imply freshness and purity. This is why people hire me; I shop an hour or two before a meal , chop up everything at the last second, because I know that eating food prepared that way makes you feel incredible. In the Indian tradition, this is known as prana. Food contains a vital energy that dissipates rapidly after it is harvested. If you eat everything as fresh as possible, you will be energized. If you eat leftovers or stale foods, your body will be clogged up and polluted by a meal rather than nourished. Thus, the debate about food sourcing should, I believe, take into consideration the nutritive value of the organic food that is sold. I can sense the absolute sincerity of Mr.Mackey for his mission (which is why I'm not going to bust his chops about agribusiness), and I believe that this sincerity should extend to providing an organic product that is truly fresh / healthful. In essence, I would love to see the freshest, most vibrant organic produce possible, wherever it's grown. Logic would dictate that WF would most likely fulfill this by increasing reliance on local suppliers. I'd guess the offending asparagus was old, being from abroad, but I imagine it's possible for a foreign product to be fresher / superior if handled carefully and flown in hastily. Mr Mackey, I ask that you consider the following questions in developing your improved approach to sourcing: Is an organic product good enough to compete w/ the non-organic alternative? If not, it does little to further the movement / make converts. Is the product fresh? Though it's local in origin, does it take a circuitous route to your store, losing vitality in the process? Perhaps WF should directly form its own network of small-farm suppliers to ensure efficiency / freshness. Even if a product meets organic standards (related to use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers), is it healthful? What type of water is used to irrigate the crops? Municipal water one wouldn't drink is routinely used on organic farms...... Have you ever driven past a top-notch wine country vineyard and seen all the automobile exhaust settling on grapes / vines 10 feet from the road? I applaud Whole Foods for giving us an opportunity to discuss these topics....again, without their immense success, the organics movement would still be marginal. I am encouraged by Mr. Mackey's public commitment to answering his critics in a constructive way. By reacting to the Pollan critique with a list of new policies, Mr. Mackey makes it clear that he's interested in more than the bottom line. By the way, Mr. Mackey, I have been attempting to discuss two ground-breaking ventures with your local management team but have found them a bit overwhelmed: despite initial enthusiasm for my ideas they have been very hard to reach. Perhaps due to your rapid expansion they are short on time. I am not at liberty to discuss these projects in a public forum, for obvious reasons. I would love to share these ideas with you, as they relate directly to the debate at hand and would go a long way to demonstrate your ccommitment to increasing commerce with local suppliers. I assure you it would be worth your time to hear me out. Thank you for the opportunity to express my two cents! Sincerely, Hugh Schick Private Chef Mill Valley, CA
07/23/2006 10:24:02 PM CDT
J says ...
This is an interesting discussion. Though clearly not short of words, Mr. Mackey's failed to provide a specific statistic asked for by Mr. Pollan: "The more telling statistic would be this: As a percentage of sales (rather than of vendors), how much of the produce sold at Whole Foods is produced locally?" If Mr. Mackey's interest is in being transparent, this information should be provided, otherwise one assumes there is a reason it is being hidden.
07/24/2006 12:44:29 PM CDT
brandon says ...
Whether Pollan should have contacted Whole Foods management or not (does a restaurant critic always talk to the chef or owners before reviewing what's on his plate?) I think it has generated a discussion many times more powerful than if he had. I find it all very invigorating and I offer kudos to John Mackey for not merely defending his postion but taking the offensive and reforming the way Whole Foods plans to source its food in the future. P.S. Don't turn Whole Foods vegan just yet...the amazing taste and healthfulness of grass fed beef will bring back a lot of converts.
07/26/2006 2:23:06 PM CDT
Suzanne says ...
Excellent discussion. The more people who engage in this debate, the healthier our bodies and our communities become. I just want to say thank you, too, to Ashley and others who make shopping at the Arabella Station store in New Orleans my favorite Whole Foods ever. (I've been to quite a few.) It isn't the biggest store, or the one with the biggest selection, but it is the most delightful place I've ever bought groceries. Thank you to all of you. I posted about this great exchange on my health blog: http://www.honesthuman.com/?p=56 Mr. Mackey, please keep up your commitment to raising standards, for animals, for produce, for humans. You have some of the most savvy customers in the industry. Keep working to keep us. Suzanne
07/26/2006 5:41:32 PM CDT
Clement Roberts says ...
Dear Mr. Mackey, Like many others here, I sincerely appreciate your discussion with Mr. Pollan and your obvious desire to have Whole Foods live its principles. I would like you to know that I try very hard to buy compassionately raised animals and very much look forward to seeing labels in your stores identifying animals raised under your new compassion standards (which, to my untrained eye, look quite sincere and reasonable). If you don't mind, I would like to make a suggestion--namely that you consider adding fish to the list of animals for which you are developing new standards. Obviously, fish that are raised in the wild do not need a compassion standard (although perhaps there are some relevant differences in the pain inflicted via various methods of capture). However, there are (as I am sure you know) enormous ecological and social implications to the way fish are caught and/or produced. It seems to me that it would be a worthwhile endeavor to develop a comprehensive set of "environmental standards" for the capture and production of various species -- in order to prevent overfishing, by-catch, the destruction of mangrove forests, and to encourage small scale fishermen etc. As I noted, I pay a great deal of attention to these issues and try very hard to only buy fish from sustainable fisheries and that are caught using methods that minimize by-catch (I also sometimes buy organically farmed tilapia and farm raised caviar etc). But: (a) I do not possess the necessary expertise or volume of information to consistently know which fish in your case best meets my environmental concerns; (b) the folks behind your counters often do not have sufficiently detailed knowledge to be able to answer my questions and (c) as you have noted, part of your mission is to educate consumers generally. In short, I ask you to consider developing a set of environmental guidelines for fish and then (as you are planning to do with the "compassion guidelines" for domestic animals) label fish that conform to these standards in your stores. Thank you very kindly for your consideration.
07/27/2006 2:47:26 AM CDT

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