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Whole Foods’ recent customer service initiatives include the acceptance in stores of label-free and box-free product returns from Las Vegas-based e-retailer

Whole Foods charts a new course

CEO Jason Buechel reveals the supermarket operator’s 10-year growth plan

Whole Foods Market Chief Executive Officer Jason Buechel has unveiled what he said is a 10-year vision for leading the company into the future.

The Austin-based retailer’s “Growing with Purpose” initiative, announced at the grocer’s first quarterly town hall meeting, will follow a scheme of increasing and investing profits strategically while focusing on four priorities: Creating the best customer experience in stores and online; investing in team member growth and happiness; delivering exceptional business performance; and expanding research to serve customers in new ways, the company said.

Whole Foods’ aim is to also set company records for new store growth while looking to expand to new markets around the global, Buechel said in a statement, adding that the retailer also will focus on environmental stewardship. Indeed, eco-consciousness along with product quality and offering local selections are three of Whole Foods’ key competitive differentiators, Buechel said last year. 

The retailer often considers “food miles” when sourcing products, and particularly produce, and since 2017 has increased local offerings by 30% with more than 3,000 unique local products in stores, he said.  Buechel added that the company wants to “make sure we have offerings that our customers are interested in while looking out for our higher purpose and core values.”

To better attract and retain employees, Whole Foods is helping associates develop skills “that they can use for a lifetime,” Buechel said, citing the creation of an apprenticeship butcher program. 

“Growing with Purpose” was created as Buechel, who became CEO in 2022 after serving as chief operating officer, immersed himself in all aspects of the business, the company said. That includes seeking employee perspectives and engaging with suppliers, customers, and community partners across every region. 

Whole Foods’ recent customer service initiatives include the acceptance in stores of label-free and box-free product returns from Las Vegas-based e-retailer Inc. owns both and Whole Foods and the supermarket chain has been accepting returns for Amazon purchases since 2020. 

While the return service benefits Whole Foods customers by enabling consumers to combine the errands of grocery shopping and arranging for package shipping, Buechel said that many of the persons returning products “are new customers to Whole Foods so it is a way to introduce our offerings to them.”

The operator also is steadily opening new locations. In January, Whole Foods began operating a 42,000-square-foot store in New York’s financial district that pays homage to the art deco history of the building. The outlet features more than 1,000 local items from New York City and the surrounding area, including produce from more than 20 farms, a prepared foods section with a food hall feel, and a full-service coffee bar.

In addition, a Bozeman, Mont., store that is scheduled to open in February will be the first Whole Foods location in the state. Whole Foods also opened outlets last year in Culver City, Calif., Grand Rapids, Mich., Pittsburgh, Woodcliff Lake, N.J., Towson, Md., New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Buechel said at the National Retail Federation’s NRF 2023 Retail’s Big Show event in New York that the company wants to eventually open 30 or more stores a year, and that it has about 50 new openings planned, which he wants to increase to 100. Whole Foods currently operates 534 stores across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Whole Foods also is planning to expand the use of Amazon’s Dash Cart technology, Buechel said, which enables shoppers to skip the checkout line by scanning products at the cart as they shop and paying with an account-linked credit or debit card. 

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