119 Comments

Comments

Pam M., Milwaukee WI says ...
I’ve read Michael Pollan’s book and I’ve followed this thread over the past month. The book has changed my life, both personally and professionally, and I feel compelled to continue to make better choices for myself and for the business I run – when it comes to local food. You see, I’ve worked the past 25 years in the natural products industry – not for Whole Foods but for one of those “fringe” co-ops Mr. Mackey referred to (“The simple truth is that the organic foods movement was largely a fringe movement with the number of adherents numbering only in the thousands before Whole Foods Market came into existence”.) Financially speaking, I understand Mr. Mackey’s response in that few businesses are even a close second to the volume of organic business Whole Foods conducts. However, with all due respect, I disagree with the organic movement having been “fringe” prior to WF existence. Whole Foods in the 1980’s was close to the same sales volume as my store at the time – along with hundreds of other independent stores across the country. After going public, WF excelled quickly by buying up many of those independent stores, who had worked for years to grow their market, contribute to their community, and increase awareness of organic foods. (They went willingly, of course.) Those independent supermarkets, and co-ops, grew the market for organics. Whole Foods was able to quickly grasp their market potential from the sales volume those independent stores and co-ops had already produced in cities across the country. Consider the market potential in my town – where WF will open thanks to the multi-millions of dollars in natural and organic sales that have come from my store and other local independents. I believe WF has done a lot for our industry – their exposure alone has really helped to grow the natural and organic market for all the rest of us. And while acquisitions and public stock have contributed to the financial success of the corporation, it seems to me to be quite self-serving to say that we wouldn’t have an organic industry without WF. Consider the fact that today there are markets that WF will never consider, because they don’t make sense to them financially. (Lower population density, lower household income, rural communities.) So instead of a WF, those communities have or are starting up a new a co-op to provide them not only with local and organic products, but real ownership of the business and a sense of community that can’t be replicated. To me, that's a value that all the millions a publicly-traded company could afford, cannot buy at any price.
07/27/2006 9:42:29 AM CDT
robert says ...
off-thread, but related: Dear Mr. Mackey: So much is at stake as goes the future of capitalism and the role of corporations. I am deeply curious to know the semantic and real differences between your views and those of someone like David Korten, and where his views and yours converge in common purpose. At a Brian Johnson blog entry at Zaadz, I suggest a pow-wow between you and Dr. Korten, presumptively inviting you both to a sit-down at Ken Wilber's loft in late October, as Dr. Korten is scheduled to be in Boulder then to discuss his latest book. Whether or not such a sit-down is possible, a conversation between you two is one I'd very much love to hear. Thank you so much for your stewardship of the organic movement and your contributions to transforming the role of corporations. Sincerely, Robert Lyons
07/27/2006 3:18:55 PM CDT
Chuck Learned says ...
Mr Mackey, I would like to offer an idea that relates to your continued desire to source food from distant shores. I understand your point regarding supporting small poor farmers overseas. This as you know carries the embodied energy of transport, which in turn plays a role in increasing the temperature of our earth's atmosphere. Given that we must all account for our eco-footprint in this matter, I am suggesting that Whole foods become a leader in developing a carbon offset plan for the carbon footprint of food travel. This plan should involve a shared responsibility with the consumer who purchases the product. Perhaps you could offer a consumer carbon offset partnership. It is possible to calculate the carbon footprint and in turn bring it to the level of a single item, this items footprint could be available to the consumer who in turn could pay for half of the footprint with Whole Foods matching it, as one possibility. This consumer match could be tallied at the checkout informing the consumer of the amount with an invitation for them to pay this carbon chip with the knowledge it will be matched. One final note, to increase both the trust and consumer commitment to the carbon footprint remediation, allow the consumers utilizing the internet, surveys, etc complete authority over the how this pool of money is utilized. Let the consumers bring forth proposals, prioritize and evaluate and give each consumer a vote who participates in the carbon offset chip program. Taking this issue on will bring only positives. The carbon footprint on a daily "consumable" must be accounted for, if we have any prayer of cooling down the big blue that we all love. As you know we have little time to turn this ship around. Chuck Learned Happy to help further if you wish.
07/27/2006 4:20:40 PM CDT
Audie Alcorn says ...
I spent years studying philosophy/ethics in academic settings that seemed divorced from any earthy groundedness; more years working for a government agency charged with environmental protection; and a couple of years running a small, not-for-profit, natural-foods co-op. And then there was the so-called real world. I used to wonder, "Must these worlds stay so separate? Can't ethical considerations; informed, passionate debate; and consideration for long-term environmental health be present in a (for-profit) business setting?" Thanks, John, for not simply asking yourself that same question, but for having the courage and energy to create the answer. I can scarely believe I'm actually reading such great stuff on a CEO's (full disclosure, *my* CEO's) blog, not least of all for all the great comments from customers, supporters and detractors, and other team members (and the idea of bringing Mackey and Ken Wilber together is a truly intriguing one -- oh, to be a fly on the wall if that meeting ever takes place!). Keep up the great work, and the continued willingness to evolve.
07/29/2006 5:55:35 AM CDT
Aloysius Jones says ...
It is more than fair not to trust the corporation. There is no reason to expect anything from it, however. We most certainly need people like Michael Pollan to raise these kind of questions, and to seriously scrutinize the actions of businesses. Mackey’s points are more than valid, and it would seem fair to have involved WFM in their defense. I am pleased that they both took the time to have a real discourse; this proves their genuine interest in the matter at hand, even if they differ. As an employee of Whole Foods Market, I believe I can give further insight. Most corporations surely started out with noble intentions. “Get better product to more people at an affordable price.” The problem with visionaries is that they often can only extend their vision to those who are in direct contact with them and usually only at the moment of direct contact. The visionary can have the whole room nodding their heads in agreement, and as soon as he takes leave suddenly they are all scratching their heads. Even the greatest visionaries of human history have seen their teachings fall prey to this. Look at the major religions of the world. When Jesus or Buddha was here, there was unity among their followers (for the most part), everyone was in agreement united and ready to do what had to be done. As soon as each left this earth, suddenly everything was open to interpretation and the list of those who think they understand the vision best is still growing. Certainly if Jesus and Buddha can have their vision divided like this, certainly we can hardly think of the corporation as an exception. A corporation is its own entity; it belongs not, to the visionary. It has but one purpose and that is to make money. It accomplishes this goal best by convincing people to invest. The best means of doing that is record-breaking returns. It doesn’t hurt, however, to also show the potential investor just how humanitarian you (the corporation) are, or to share your vision. However, because of its goal, it will only adhere to the original vision as long as it yields the proper return. I truly appreciate John Mackey’s vision, and I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak. It is one of the reasons that I decided to work for WFM. But, I assure you even as high up as Regional Presidents and as low as your Team Member starting out at $8.50/hr there are few that see that vision, therefore they can not properly act upon it. Even after hearing him speak, I was the only one perhaps two if we stretch it, out of a group of seven who went together, who really listened and understood. Corporations can be expected to make money, not change the world and in the end not even change how we do business, or the industry for any better. Change is a long process and often what can seem progressive turns out to be nothing more than the same old, just wrapped in new packaging featuring all recycled materials and zero calories. We will have to wait and see if Whole Foods Market can rise above that expectation.
07/30/2006 6:43:34 AM CDT
Kevin Knox says ...
Thanks for the great forum. Pollan's book is a life-changing event, and as always Mr. Mackey your passion, honesty and intelligence are an inspiration. Missing in much of the discussion, but certainly not in Pollan or his book nor in the preferences of many who shop WF, are issues of FLAVOR and FRESHNESS. Industrial organic products may address purity concerns, but for food lovers purity is not the only issue. When we look to the culinary traditions of France and Italy, for example, or to to American inspirations from those cultures (Chez Panisse, Slow Food, Chef's Collaborative, etc.) we see that the shortest possible time and distance transit from farm to table is critical to good flavor. Have a meal at any great restaurant here or in Europe and the vegetables will have been picked within a day or so, the fruit will be what is in season, and other ingredients largely sourced locally and regionally from farmers with a personal relationship to the chef. This is where quality comes from. It would be great to define "local" and "artisinal" more precisely. Rather than ducking those issues, WF could ask Slow Food, for example, to help them do so. In the culinary worlds of (to take the leading examples) France, Italy and Spain more than a few cooks mean "grown within my sight," but at the very least it means within one's region (and bear in mind these countries are about the size of a large American state). I don't want to be excessively Euro-centric here, as the same sensitivity to ripeness and freshness exist in every established culinary tradition, from Mexico to India to Thailand. So the issues Pollan raises about WF using fossil fuels to fly produce from distant lands are culinary as well as ethical. Eating locally and seasonally is, for most of the world, not even a choice, and the completely unseasonal relationship to food promoted by flying in stuff out of season from all over the planet is based on the same sort of unsustainable petrochemically-fueled addictions as the industrial corn Pollan discusses early in the book. The argument that such practices are justified because they help poor farmers in those countries is transparently self-serving. There are lots of ways to help people in the third world besides encouraging them to cultivate crops for wealthy, pesticide-phobic white people in the first world to consume (the latter being a rather obvious instance of cultural and culinary colonialism and imperialism). Anyone who's every tasted corn the day it was picked has had a crash course in the fact that, as M.F.K. Fisher put it, "it's the difference between fresh and very fresh that makes all the difference." Beyond the flavor and pleasure, this is also, as was mentioned in a previous post, an issue of nutrients and of vitality (prana in the Ayurvedic system, chi in Chinese medicine). Local fresh foods have this, industrial ones, organic or otherwise, do not. As Wal Mart and mainstream supermarkets enter the world of shelf stable industrial organics it seems to me there's an opportunity as well as quite possibly a business imperative for WF to rediscover freshness and flavor as priorities. In produce this means seasonal, local and fresh first, then (certified) organic. It means not prewrapping cheeses that need to be cut to order, no matter how much labor it saves you. It means roasting your coffee locally and selling it within 7 days, not putting it in vacuum bags and prestaling it in distribution centers. There are of course many other examples, but these are a few obvious places to start. Thanks again for your commitment to continual improvement of an already great company!
08/01/2006 9:33:39 AM CDT
Ian says ...
Though I find the intellectual discussion of food interesting and something that I value, what I want to know how this is helping the stakeholders of the whole foods organization? The stock just fell over $6, stock options to rank and file have been eliminated - how is the company going to keep the talent that provides and cares for this food interested and wanting to not want to work at competing stores that do not have the same value sets?
08/01/2006 1:36:34 PM CDT
Brendan says ...
Mr. Mackey, I am in the process of reading Mr. Pollan's book and have already finished the Supermarket Pastoral section of the book. Let me explain the experience I had recently after starting to read this book. After reading about the industrial food chain and how corn has become our staple food without actually being our staple food, my girlfriend and I discussed ways to "avoid the industrial food chain." And to limit our intake of corn as much as possible to occasionally eating actual corn. Not being even close to well off financially, we realized that we could get our produce from a lovely local grocer whose only products were locally grown organic produce at very, very reasonable prices. Lovely, we thought. But what about meat, where might we find grass fed beef? Whole Foods, we thought, was our answer. It would be more expensive, but - in moderation - doable. But my experience at Whole Foods was confusing and disheartening, to say the least. As Mr. Pollan points out, your store does a very good job telling a story... but not the whole story and certainly not enough to satisfy individuals who actually want to know what they are eating. A pamphlet I read in your store indicated that the beef you sold came from cows that were pasture fed for 2/3's of their life. Well, which 2/3's? And what were they fed for the remaining 1/3? Did I even want to know? Well, yes... yes, I did. It was only after this experience that I got to the Supermarket Pastoral section. It made me laugh, actually. I am glad that you felt the need to defend the practices of Whole Foods against the claims made by Mr. Pollan. Personally, I agree with his methods because his experience was my experience. And what is the result? You have posted on this blog - which I would never have even looked at if not for Mr. Pollan's book - what you are endeavoring to do in order to better Whole Foods relationship with local farmers. But, I never would have known about them by walking into your stores. I never would've known it was even a concern. I am not a journalist, I am a customer. I believe that the transparency that Mr. Pollan discusses and that you, in your most recent response to him, have just exhibited are very important steps. Why do I need to read a book that criticizes your company in order to - a couple of steps of research down the line - find out that you recognize the weaknesses in the organic food system and that you are doing what you can to make improvements? Why can't I go into Whole Foods to find this out? Do your employees know how to deal with customers when it comes to providing answers to what's in the food sold at your store? Whole Foods is not Wal-Mart... granted. And I am not a Wal-Mart customer. I am doing what I can to educate myself about what I eat and where I get it. The more transparency you can provide, the better I can educate myself. You seem to be interested in doing that, for which you and your company are to be commended. I appreciate the dialog. Thank you. Your customer, Brendan
08/02/2006 2:51:56 PM CDT
Rob Rushin says ...
Hello All - I've just recently stumbled across this blog, and I find the exchange here really fascinating and encouraging. So many people sincerely searching for a way to live and be that is conscious and honorable -- this inspires hope. But I look at this comment by Aloysius Jones above and recognize a persistent problem: "But, I assure you even as high up as Regional Presidents and as low as your Team Member starting out at $8.50/hr there are few that see that vision, therefore they can not properly act upon it. Even after hearing him speak, I was the only one perhaps two if we stretch it, out of a group of seven who went together, who really listened and understood." It is this fundamental inability (or lack of will) in most people to stretch themselves to hear ideas that are out of their normal mode of thought. People need to not only gain exposure to new ideas, people need to learn a new way of learning and listening. I find this of deep interest as this is my area of training expertise. Our work is based on the idea that our inability to hear others' viewpoints -- and hence to expand our consciousness to incorporate even the possibility of their validity -- is connected to ingrained patterns of physical and emotional behavior. Further, these two types of behaviors are in fact intertwined in a way that is largely invisible within ourselves, while often easily seen in others. Some of the comments in this thread are notable in their detailed inventory of other people's motives. But few seem to recognize their own motivations and the way they play out in the exchange. Certainly, Mr Pollan has expended a great deal of time and thought on his book and its underlying idea set. And clearly Mr Mackey has invested his life in the philosophies and executions that have made Whole Foods so successsful. Yet they each approach the debate as though the other has an agenda, while the role of their own motivations are either transparent or trivial. And in this, the dance-around continues. I applaud Mr Mackey's willingness to undertake this blog and engage his critics in public view. But I ask Mr Mackey this: Are you confident that your philosophy and values are in fact well-communicated and understood by the full depth of the WFM team? Is it possible, despite your best efforts to communicate these ideas, that your chain of command might listen-but-not-hear? If there is wavering confidence is answering "Yes" to these questions, what steps can WFM take to enable your employees to bring their listening consciousness to new level of effectiveness?
08/03/2006 12:49:54 PM CDT
Jessica says ...
John, Just gotta ask. Why, if "buyers are allowed to buy direct" was your floral buyer in Seattle REQUIRED to buy tulips from California when those tulips actually came from Washington to begin with? Don't you think this is misleading to the consumer, who will be obviously unaware of the lengths their "local" product has traveled to get to them? You see John, you're stores and your "leaders" are all very concerned with telling you what you want to hear. The reality is, unfortunately, very different from the idea. You yourself stated that at least some of your "leaders" aren't in the yellow MEME. It's true and unfortunate as they can't and don't lead your company in the way you intend. They can however spend their time chaperoning your visits to their stores to insure you don't hear from the "team members" what's really going on…. You might consider traveling unannounced.
08/05/2006 9:42:33 PM CDT
Renae P says ...
Rob, I would like to answer your questions about the communication and education of WFM team members. I work at the Omaha, Nebraska WFM. (Yes, there really is a WFM in Nebraska - a big one, too!) My title is In Store Educator. My entire focus for all 40 hours of my work week is team member education. We have a very aggressive education curriculum, including everything from OSHA basics to in-depth discussions of our animal compassionate standards. Our store opened in September of last year, and since that time we have continuously offered development courses to our team members. As of today, the total attendance in these courses for our store sits at 1917. That's a lot of learning! WFM also offers self-paced intranet modules on topics such as our quality standards and organics. In fact, there is an entire team at our headquarters in Austin dedicated to nothing but the design of curriculum for the education of team members. Coming from the field of "real" education (I was previously a high school English teacher)I have to say I've never seen an entity more passionate about the training and success of its employees. It is truly refreshing to be a part of such a compassionate company! In short, Rob, I can assure you first-hand that if there are team members in this company who are not informed about WFM policies or the issues in our industry it is certainly not for a lack of dedication on the part of WFM leadership! Cheers!
08/07/2006 11:52:31 AM CDT
Morton says ...
John Mackey is overreacting. The Omnivore's Dillema is not about Whole Foods, in fact the name "Whole Foods" appears on about 16 pages of the 400+ page book. Pollan's assesment of "Industrial Organic" food production is ambivalent. It is positive as well as negative, and more revealing than criticial. Mackey's letters are empty rhetoric. Though they are almost unreadably long, he fails to answer Pollan's central question: what percentage of Whole Foods TOTAL SALES are from products supplied by local, artisinal food producers. Instead Mackey confuses the reader by focusing on the percentage breakdown of their vendors. To clarify by a purely speculative example: Whole Foods sells 20 types of nut butter, 19 are from artisinal, family nut butter producers, one is from an industrial organic company. As Mackey is quick to point out: 95% of their nut butter suppliers are artisinal family farms. But if 60% of nut butter sales go to the low priced, industrial organic nut butters than that 95% figure is meaningless. Pollan's primary criticisms of the Industrial Organic are not centered on Whole Foods, but on some of their most important suppliers: Petaluma Poultry, Earthbound Farms and Cascadian Farms. Mackay criticizes Pollan for not contacting Whole Foods, but he had plenty of interaction with these three suppliers, who represent a significant percentage of Whole Food's sales. Two facts that sum up his argument: -Organic "Rosie" Free Range chickens grown by Petaluma Poultry never set foot outside. -It takes 60 calories of energy to bring one calorie of Earthbound Farms organic mixed greens to the plate of a diner in Manhattan. Pollan's conclusion regarding industrial organics is mixed. He points out that the growth of organic mega-farms such as Earthbound represent growth in pesticide and herbicide free land (although petroleum consumption is comparable to conventional agriculture). Certainly movements towards more humane animal husbandry are positive. But Pollan's point is that most consumers believe that the products sold at Whole Foods are far more sustainable, artisinal, healthy and humane than they actually are (Pollan refrains from really delving into the issue of pseudo-healthy, organic junk food such as TVP and processed soy prducts). Whole Foods projects an image that, though not technically false, is certainly misleading. I heard gasps from the audience at my local book store in Berkeley when Pollan spoke of the conditions of the Organic Rosie Chicken (a staple at NorCal Whole Foods markets) and these were from people who consider themselves informed and progressive thinking eaters. I am thrilled with the growth of Industrial Organic agriculture. Anything that moves away from the current, highly unsustainable model is a good thing. Wal-Mart is selling organic? Fantastic! But I have no delusions about Industrial Organic food. It is still far removed from an ideal of artisinal, local farmers, ranchers and food processers. Pollan's intent is to make that distinction clear to the consumer, and Mackey's intent is to obscure that distinction.
08/07/2006 10:24:06 PM CDT
John Mackey says ...
People keep making the same criticism about my not answering Michael Pollan's question about the actual percentage of local produce sold in our stores. I answered this question on this board back on July 19. I'll repeat the answer here again: "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." A few other answers to questions: Have I met with Ken Wilber? Yes. Ken and I have had very interesting discussions 4 times now--3 in person and 1 over the phone. One of the discussions was recorded and can be listened to in 2 parts at: http://in.integralinstitute.org/talk.aspx?id=644 I am a great admirer of Ken Wilber's thinking and view him as one of the greatest living philosophers in the world. I have recently made a significant financial contribution to the Integral Institute and in July was asked to join their Board of Directors and I accepted this invitation. To Clement Roberts. Thanks for your suggestion about developing animal compassionate standards for farmed fish. I agree with you and we plan on doing this. However, dairy cows and broiler chickens are ahead of them in the queue. To all the various defenders of consumer co-ops on this blog--I have nothing against consumer co-ops. I used to belong to 2 co-ops in Austin before I began Whole Foods. I wish consumer food co-ops nothing but the best and hope they flourish. I will say, however, that I don't believe consumer food co-ops are ethically superior to corporations simply because they are owned by their customers or preach a philosophy of "food for people, not for profit". Whatever the organizational form of a business--whether it is owned by customers, employees, investors, suppliers or the government--all businesses ultimately must create value for their various constituencies to flourish over the long run. These constituencies include their customers, employees, investors, suppliers, community, and the environment. In my opinion, food co-ops have never realized their great potential in the world because they've long believed that profits were somehow or another "evil" or simply based on "greed". This philosophy prevented the hundreds of food co-ops across the country from accumulating the necessary capital required to grow and expand their businesses to meet the rising demand for their products. Investor co-ops such as Whole Foods (yes we are also a form of co-operative as well--one owned and controlled by the financial investors) have flourished because we recognized the absolute necessity of profits which we have used to benefit all of our various stakeholders. To Chuck Learned: Excellent suggestion about the "carbon footprint". We'll see if we can work towards such a goal over the next several years. Regarding local food: As I've stated in my blog, Whole Foods has begun a number of initiatives to increase the amount of local food sold in our stores. However, I find the petro-chemical argument not very convincing. We live in an increasingly integrated world economy. A huge number of things in our lives come from around the world--our clothing, many of our automobiles do and all of our automobiles have parts sourced from other countries, most of our electronics such as iPods, cell phones, and computers (including most of the computers (or most of their parts) used by participants to complain about imported foods. When Michael Pollan was promoting his book around the country he wasn't walking or riding a bicycle to go to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, and dozens of other locations. No, Michael was using plenty of fossil fuel to jet around the country to make the argument that we shouldn't use so much fossil fuel in food production. I find that a bit ironic, even if no one else does. The bottom-line is that Whole Foods is going to give strong support to local foods because they will be fresher, more nutritious, will likely taste better, and because hundreds of thousands of our customers want us to. We will also continue to import foods from all over the world because millions of our customers want us to. It is also a simple fact that buying agricultural products from the developing world helps the developing world economically. If we don't buy from what the developing world has to sell, which is primarily agricultural products, then we aren't going to be helping those billions of poor people in the world to lift themselves out of poverty. Peter Singer's argument about "community based selfishness" is a valid argument in my opinion. To Brendan--sorry that you feel like Whole Foods isn't transparent enough or doing enough to educate customers. Thanks for the feedback. We'll try to do better in the future. To Kevin Knox (are you the Kevin Knox who was once our brilliantly talented Coffee Buyer/Roaster at Allegro? Hope you are doing well, Kevin.): I agree with several of your suggestions, Kevin. I agree with the Slow Food Movement and the importance of artisanal fresh foods in terms of quality, freshness and nutritional value. Whole Foods is already doing quite a bit to maximize freshness whenever possible and we are rapidly evolving to do even more in this regard. Many of our stores roast green coffee beans every day to maximize their freshness and many of our stores do cut cheeses to order (and all of them will do this if you request a special cut). It is important to realize, however, that other customers prefer the convenience of pre-cut cheeses, pre-bagged coffee, and already cooked foods. Not everyone who shops at our stores is a "foodie" or is necessarily passionate about food. We have millions of customers and their needs and desires are infinitely diverse. To Morton: Whole Foods is hard at work developing alternative suppliers that will produce animal compassionate products for our stores. Pollan's criticisms regarding the way chickens are treated even on organic farms is substantially correct. It is appalling! I am personally a (near) vegan (I eat eggs from my own 30 chickens). Much of the $10 million in annual loans we are going to make to local producers will be to produce local animal products which will meet our rigorous animal compassionate standards. We are working on this as fast as we are able to right now. It is important to understand, however, that Whole Foods Market is just a retailer--we don't grow the foods or raise the animals. We sell the highest quality natural and organic foods available--that is Core Value #1. I think it is more than a little unfair to blame Whole Foods for the practices of an entire animal factory farm food production system which we didn't create and certainly don't endorse. It is only very recently that Whole Foods has grown large enough and wealthy enough to begin to change this horrible system. However, it will take us a few years to find and fund the entrepreneurs to lead this revolution across the nation and to get animal compassionate product into our stores in quantity. One final question to Morton and the many other critics of Whole Foods out there: who is doing more than we are to raise the quality of food in our society? No, we aren't perfect. We have made many mistakes. However, we are learning and we are evolving very rapidly. Our stores continue to rapidly improve and our Team Members remain committed to our larger mission. Watch what we do over the next few years. We have barely gotten started.
08/13/2006 9:54:01 PM CDT
Alicia says ...
Excellent dialog. I hope more and more people "wake up" and join in the discussion. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!
08/15/2006 8:48:04 AM CDT
Rob Rushin says ...
To Renae P - Thanks so much for your thoughtful response to my post. I do not question for a moment that WFM is committed to transmitting its core values and mission to its team members. The very existence of this blog and the efforts Mr. Mackey takes to communicate and refine his message is clear indication of the value placed on this aspect of the WFM performance. And my several friends who work at WFM are effusive in their praise for the training and overall work environment. My point is this...oft-times the message is communicated, then re-imparted, then emphasized, then told again. Yet, if the people on the receiving end do not know how to hear, it really is irrelevant how often or well the message is sent. So, to my question again...what does WFM do to empower its team members to really hear and internalize the message? My company is not the only one to focus on this fundamental issue, but it is certainly something that is close to my heart. I don't intend to discount your and your peers work in the training realm. Rather, I simply ask whether the fine training you offer is as effective as it could be. Very best wishes,
08/15/2006 11:22:42 AM CDT
Renae P says ...
Rob, Your question is one that strikes at the very core of effective education. It is one skill to convey information, but another beast entirely to teach people how to learn. It's the education equivalent of sucessfully nailing Jell-o to a tree - pretty freakin hard! As a company-wide team of trainers, I think we do well. There are several things working in our favor. First, every trainer I've met here is extremely intelligent and passionate about Whole Foods Market and its mission. What's more, we are provided with the tools and funds necessary to be excellent instructors and to entice Team Members to attend classes. This makes us much more effective, as well as attracts and retains excellent trainers. As excellent trainers are wont to do, we vary the instructional modalities to capture all learning styles, we do as much instruction in person as we can to convey enthusiasm, we offer courses on communication and listening skills, and sometimes we even entice Team Members with free food! :) As educators, we also have a very good set of circumstances in place to encourage our Team Members to internalize our message. No employee is going to embrace a company he or she feels is taking advantage of its position of power. Whole Foods makes a deliberate effort to value Team Members. We offer the highest pay, excellent benefits (that we all choose by democratic vote), generous paid time off, and we develop most leadership from within the company. The other side of this is that we also tend to attract Team Members who already share values with Whole Foods. Many of our Team Members cared passionately about natural foods or the environment before they came to work here, so they are predisposed to learning more. Do we have a success rate of 100 percent? Will every Team Member in every store care enough to learn about animal compassion or wind energy? No. The thing I love most about Whole Foods is the diversity of the Team Member base, which means there is a spectrum of knowledge and engagement. But do you know what? The person who punches in, does his job and punches out still has a job that pays well, benefits that he may not have had before and a company that cares about him. Maybe he will become interested after a while, and maybe not. But by doing right by him, Whole Foods has increased the quality of life for one more family. I think as a company and educator group, we do absolutely everything in our power to enable our team members to internalize the mission and values of the company. We can't make everyone care, but we have set up a culture to encourage it. The knowledge and customer service levels displayed in all 186 of our stores tells me that while our sucess rate is not 100 percent, it's pretty darn high! Cheers! Renae
08/22/2006 10:42:22 AM CDT
Milo Popovich says ...
I just finished reading this whole blog. It's so educational and informative...Thank you all for your input. In 1976 I had a wonderful Natural Food Store "Stoney Oak Farm" in Julian CA for several years (in the San Diego back country mountains). There I met many interesting people both local and tourist. I remember their praise and controversy about "organic, natural, raw, etc.). I appreciate WFM and the rest of you for keeping on. Our children and their children will benefit.
08/22/2006 7:55:38 PM CDT
Dan Deans says ...
The real "bottom line" is that Mackey and WFM have created a working business model that brings organic food, in quantity, to large urban populations. I've been eating organic since 1987, and back then it was extremely hard to feed one's family by shopping at small co-ops, health food stores, or local farmers. Everyone, except perhaps the financially very well-off, had to integrate non-organics into their diets. Because of WFM that has changed. I shop at WFM once or twice a week: I find the staff happy and helpful (b/c they love working for WFM), and also committed to a healthy alternative lifestyle. And don't think WFM hasn't had a huge impact on the grocery industry today. I started reading "Progressive Grocer," a trade magazine, last year--to decide if WFM stock was a good investment--and the mainstream grocery retailers (grudgingly) admit that Mackey has created a business model that the rest of them can't beat. Not that Wal-Mart isn't trying. Look at how these big players are trying to weaken organic standards so that they can undercut WFM by offering quasi-organic foods under the "organic" label, and you'll understand why Mackey is protective of WFM's business strategy. Can you imagine WFM trying to get the laws changed so they can sell synthetic pesticide laden food as organic? Hardly. Instead of complaining about WFM, Pollan needs to help combat this real assault on organics! Thanks to WFM my family is able to eat organic produce every day, and at affordable prices. And for those who think WFM's organic is expensive, try paying for medical bills caused by pesticides. Take the money you're saving and invest in WFM stock...I already have. Keep up the great work Mackey.
08/27/2006 3:46:04 PM CDT
Tony M says ...
We have been shopping at WF for years supplementing the meat, eggs, fruit, goats milk and poultry we grow ourselves. I have nothing to sell but will alert my farming and ranching friends of the policy changes at WF. I have volunteered to speak about Organics at my local WF store, many times, and took the opportunity to also speak with the employees. As a retired HR professional with 35 yrs experience in a Fortune 100 company, I know when I see good management practices and satisfied employees. I believe that the major force behind the success of WF is their management philosophy and practices. Anyone can pick apart a single event. I look at the bigger picture of what WF has done as well as what they are trying to do and I measure them by that standard. Years ago, we learned of a Japanese phrase called "Kaisan", which means continuous improvement. If you don't think that WF, especially after reading JM's responses, is not committed to continuous improvement, I must wonder. I appreciate John's responses and wish I had the chance during my career to support a manager like him. Tony M
08/28/2006 2:56:41 PM CDT
Kelly M. McDaniel says ...
"I believe that individual freedom in free markets when combined with property rights through rule of law and ethical democratic government results in societies that maximize prosperity and establish conditions that promote human happiness and well being." "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Nicely put, John, very nicely put...Kelly.
08/29/2006 8:40:12 AM CDT
Simon Billenness says ...
I was pleased to read John Mackey's commitment to working with third-party certification agencies. As John Mackey said on this blog: "Over the next few years Whole Foods intends to work closely with various certifying organizations such as Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance to make sure that eventually all our globally sourced products are 3rd party certified as to minimum price levels, acceptable labor standards, and environmental sustainability.” I know that Whole Foods has in the past been very skeptical of Fair Trade certification. However, I'm sure your good experience with organic certification has demonstrated its value in terms of greater scrutiny of production conditions and greater confidence by your customers. As a first step will you seek Fair Trade Certification for your own Allegro coffees?
08/29/2006 12:36:01 PM CDT
John M says ...
Hey John, Renae P. What an excellent way to exchange idea's and communicate! John, I commend you on this! How many other CEO's are doing this? I love what YOU and WHOLE FOODS MARKET stand for! I too have a PASSION for Organic's and all things as Natural as can be! I LOVE your stores and I have thoroughly researched your company - what a great environment to work in, especially for someone whom is dedicated to health and organics. Well, I would jump at the chance to work at one of your stores - Austin or San Antonio are the closest. I have awesome customer service skills and work great on teams, and as I mentioned earlier, I have a strong passion for Organics and staying Healthy - would you guys have a place for me there?? I know this is not the proper arena for looking for a career with Whole Foods, but I was so IMPRESSED after reading this blog(especially with what Renae P. wrote), I thought why not, sometimes you have to be Different and Think Outside the BOX!! And what Tony P. wrote about the practice of Kaizen and continous improvement, he is right on the money with WFM!! Smilezzz :-) John M.
08/29/2006 1:40:47 PM CDT
Elise Brewin says ...
Mr.Mackey, Thank you for Whole Foods, for providing this forum, and for your work to improve things. I am in the midst of reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and am somewhat amazed at the degree of defensiveness with which you read the part concerning Whole Foods. I am not finding heroes and villains, rather i am finally finding someone who isn't afraid to discuss the complexity of the situation, and the unusual position that Whole Foods finds itself in. I veiw the position of Whole Foods and similar "green market" enterprises as the tricky one of changing a system by taking part in it. In the continuum that is a paradigm shift (i know that seems contradictory, but we're living it), it is necessary to have many degrees of the change taking place. We need visionary extremists like Mr. Salatin as much as we need visionary extremists like Mr. Mackey, people demonstrating something new and different while others build a bridge for the rest of us from where we are (industrial conventional) through where we need to pass (industrial organic) to where we are going (hopefully somewhere w/ food...). To balance all of these visionaries, we need people like Mr. Pollan who can eloquently describe the scene as it looks from here, and present possible ways to push it in a positive direction. I am delighted that Mr. Pollan did not talk to you first Mr. Mackey, because people w/ a vision like yours are very infectious, and you need to hear how it looks to the thinking shopper in your store, not how it looks to the person who fully realizes your vision. I found the part about Whole Foods quite accurate - I love to shop there, but do so knowing that not all is as sustainable as you and I both want it to be. Part of the reason I spend some of my food dollars there is that it is apparent that Whole Foods is one of the few places that is grappling with these contradictions. All of this us/them and the idea that anyone could present a perfect picture in the current system is ridiculous, and that is precisely why it takes Mr. Pollan so many pages to describe attaining that perfection, even for one meal. I hardly think Mr. Pollan would have his "hero" suggest that NY city has to go, or that he loves to shop w/ his "villain" Finally, the whole globalization argument changes drastically when one addresses the diminishing petroleum problem. It's a lovely, but silly, idea to want to help people in poor countries by importing their fresh food/ flowers. Transporting non-perishable items (clothes, grains, coffee, chocolate, etc) makes sense, and helping them build local healthy food economies there makes sense. A man of your intelligence must see the difference between using petroleum to transport a person/book with life changing ideas and using petroleum to tranport perishable food? and even the difference between transporting a durable good like clothing vs an orange? anyhow, as the petroleum diminishes we'll be forced to reshape our ideas of globalism, and travel, and even our definition of local. (a days drive vs a days walk? that walk in nikes vs that walk in non-petroleum based shoes? etc.) Thank you for all of your good work, and especially for your open heart and mind. viva la revolucion!
08/31/2006 3:49:28 AM CDT
Susanne Scott says ...
My impression of Whole Foods thus far is that the local store has supreme authority for addressing consumer concerns. All consumer issues get rerouted directly back to the store - there is a complete hands off approach at the regional and national level. This is fine, except when a store manager aays that if you don't like things as they are, then you can shop elsewhere. The possibility for meaningful and intelligent dialog effectively ends with that type of response. This is what I am experiencing with my local Whole Foods regarding my concerns about the profound scarcity of grass-based products, 100% organic and pasture-raised beef, pork, and poultry, lack of fresh fish, and lack of transparency of explicit labeling definitions & criteria at my store (eg. please define natural, organic, 100% organic, fair-trade, etc... so the average consumer can make a truly educated decision on which product to purchase). The consumer can only drive true demand if they understand the often "subtle" differences. I agree that Whole Foods is well-positioned to fully educate the average American consumer and that the organization as a whole should take that honor and responsibility very seriously, especially if we hope to see consumer grocery habits and demand change.
09/02/2006 7:38:02 AM CDT
Daniel Helfman says ...
Dear Mr. Mackey, Pollan’s book helps readers learn more about where food is from, but it does not necessarily help us to shop better. The following is an idea that should benefit Whole Foods and its customers: Perhaps a food sourcing scorecard should be created by Whole Foods or a third-party supplier for your web site, stores and customers? This scorecard would allow a customer in Austin, Texas, for example, to see what percentage of vendors/producers are local, what percentage of the coffee sold is organic or Fair Trade, percentage of products that are GMO-free, percentage of meats sold with animal compassion principles, etc. Of course, such a scorecard might need constant explanations. Unlike, say Starbucks, Whole Foods is not selling primarily one or two products (coffee and tea); y’all probably sell 50,000 to a 100,000 different SKUs. But in the name of greater accountability, transparency and yes, Mr. Pollan’s book, perhaps this would help end the debate once and for all. Keep up the good work, Mr. Mackey, and please let me know if you would like more information on such a scorecard. As a former director of marketing for one of Ben & Jerry’s major vendors, I’ve developed such scorecards before.
09/14/2006 7:40:35 AM CDT

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