A Look At Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market is the largest retailer of natural and organic foods in the US. and the 11th largest food retailer overall based on 2011 sales rankings.  It operates approximately 335 stores and employs approximately 72,000 employees.

The company supplies high quality natural and organic foods, with a commitment to the environment and sustainable agriculture.  Ingredients are sourced for freshness, safety, taste, nutritive value and appearance.

Products are produced from organic farming with no pesticides or toxic chemicals.  Synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge are not permitted to promote growth and renewable resources and conservation of soil and water are utilized.  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that produce genetically modified products are not sold and farmers utilize healthy soil building techniques in order to grow the healthiest foods possible.

The company was founded in Austin, Texas in 1980 as a natural foods supermarket.  Founders John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy of Safer Way Natural Foods merged with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery.  The company started with a small staff of 19 people.

Throughout the 90s, the company expanded by purchasing other natural food chains such as Wellspring Grocery of North Carolina, Bread & Circus of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets of Los Angeles, Bread of Life of Northern California, Fresh Fields Markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Florida Bread of Life stores, Detroit area Merchant of Vino stores, and Nature’s Heartland of Boston.

After the 90s the company acquired more stores.  In 2001, it spread into Manhattan, and ventured up to Canada in 2002.  Then, the company went overseas into the United Kingdom in 2004 with the purchase of seven Fresh & Wild stores.

In 2014, the company acquired seven Dominick’s leases from Safeway Inc. that gives it greater presence in the Greater Chicago area.

The company employs a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards program to evaluate animal health and well-being, handling, living conditions and transportation and supplies sourced meat with the highest possible ratings.  Meat is obtained from animals that are fed organically grown feed and no antibiotics or growth hormones.

The company uses Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified sustainable seafood whenever possible.  This is viewed as the hallmark in sustainable seafood practices.  When these products are not available, the company uses third-party audits, traceability, and color-coded sustainability ratings.

Over the last decade, Whole Foods stopped selling vulnerable species such as non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks and marlins.

Whole Foods seafood sustainability standards prohibit use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives like sulfites and phosphates, genetically modified seafood and land animal by-products in feed.  Producers are required to ensure that water quality, wildlife and ecosystems are efficiently maintained.

Every store donates food to local food banks and shelters and several times a year, community giving days donate 5% of that days’ sales to local nonprofit and educational organizations.  The company also undertakes global giving initiatives.

Recently, sales have been showing strong growth. For the third quarter ended July 6, 2014, sales per store averaged US $736,000 or approximately $1,000 per gross square foot.  Benchmark same-store sales grew by 3.9% and total sales grew by 10% to US $3.4 billion.

In 2012, Canada and the UK contributed 3.2% of sales but this number is expected to increase as the company expands in these countries.

The company plans to renovate up to 70% of its stores that are over 10 years old over the next year.  The chain also plans to lower prices and launch a national marketing campaign to attract more customers since Q2 performance was lower than expected and the company has recently revised earnings estimates downward.

Whole Foods remains committed to growth and the company recently announced some new initiatives including home delivery and customer pickup in 12 to 15 markets, an online subscription club, an affinity program and a mobile app.

The company operates 8 stores in Canada.  There are four stores in Vancouver, and one in each of Oakville, Mississauga, Markham, and Toronto, Ontario.  The company offers select online ordering available for customer pick-up.

As organic foods continue to gain in popularity with health-conscious consumers, it is more than likely Whole Foods will expand more in Canada, the US and Internationally.  Currently, Whole Foods only operates in British Columbia and Ontario, so consumers are set to benefit as the company considers plans to expand elsewhere.


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