SN Whole Health Cover Story: Whole Foods at 30

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Food Market's milestone anniversary comes at a critical time for the company, founded in an old nightclub here back in 1980.

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Food Market's milestone anniversary, featured in SN's Whole Health supplement [4], comes at a critical time for the company, founded in an old nightclub here back in 1980. The chain, with nearly 300 stores, has been able to fight off the worst of the recession, but faces challenges as it rebuilds a customer base that's today more value-conscious and price-sensitive.

The primary issue is that throughout most of its recent history, Whole Foods made its name selling premium-priced natural and organic foods. The new economic reality has meant rethinking both its market strategy and the role it wants to play in the lives of its shoppers.

Everything rests in the hands of John Mackey [5], who co-founded Whole Foods [6] and remains the chain's controversial, unpredictable CEO. Last summer, when he proclaimed, "We sell a bunch of junk," he had already decided to steer the company back to its healthful roots. Just last month, Whole Foods took its first step in that direction by unveiling "Health Starts Here," an ambitious program that promotes health and wellness through education and support.

"For the past few years, they were really riding the wave of economic momentum and naturally, emphasized the high-dollar items,” said Jay Jacobowitz, president of Retail Insights, a consulting firm in Brattleboro, Vt. “What’s forward is the value end of the spectrum. They haven’t changed the standard, it’s just what they’re emphasizing in their marketing.”

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