Whole Foods CEO wants to reconnect with the chain’s core values. After the Amazon deal, is it possible?


September is already shaping up to be a big month for Whole Foods Market. John Mackey, the controversial co-founder and chief executive of the organic supermarket chain, retired last week. His replacement, former Whole Foods COO Jason Buechel, has announced plans to “reconnect” with the company’s heritage.

That can be difficult, critics pointed out, because this year also marks the fifth anniversary of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, a partnership that in 2017 seemed antithetical to the wholesome and (slightly) countercultural image that the market had grown since its inception in 1980.

But while cases of kombucha and the many vegan options may signal to shoppers that this isn’t your average American grocery store, they alone don’t protect businesses from the grinding gears of capitalism.

As The New York Times reported in 2017, the $13.7 billion cash deal for Whole Foods “represents[ed] a major escalation in the company’s longstanding battle with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the United States, which is struggling to catch up on internet shopping.”

While kombucha crates and plentiful vegan options may signal to shoppers that this isn’t your average American grocery store, they alone don’t protect businesses from the gears of capitalism.

At the time, Amazon was struggling to become a major player in the food and beverage industry. Despite selling groceries online since the late 2000s, consumers didn’t associate the e-commerce giant with buying their weekly produce and meat.

Acquiring Whole Foods was a surefire way to change that perception – and it did.

The acquisition of Amazon has also brought benefits to the company. According to CNBC, Whole Foods has added 3,000 local brands over the past five years, a 30% increase since before the Amazon deal. Additionally, Whole Foods told the outlet that it had “more than doubled its list of banned food ingredients, bringing the total to more than 250.”

Whole Foods prohibits ingredients such as hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. During this time, the meat should be free of antibiotics and added hormones.

However, the move also polarized some Whole Foods customers, who feared the purchase would impact how employees and small producers would be treated under the new regime.

A year after the purchase, a group of Whole Foods employees emailed thousands of co-workers a list of takeover grievances, including the removal of some stock options and “being constantly asked to do more with fewer resources and now with less compensation.”

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Some workers have attempted to organize in the large retail, wholesale and department store union, although these efforts have stalled. Additionally, amid the pandemic, workers at Amazon and Whole Foods have coordinated numerous protests, denouncing the lack of safety guidelines to limit the risk of coronavirus, as well as limited paid sick leave.

Now, five years and a global pandemic later, Buechel says he wants to get back to the “core values” of the company.

“One of my main goals is to reconnect with our Higher Purpose, Mission and Core Values ​​with our team members,” Beauchel said during a panel at the recent World Food Forum. Wall Street Journal. “We’ve been through a lot.”

However, Jess Weidauer, director of SSR Retail, wrote on RetailWire that “reconnecting with the ‘higher purpose’ of Whole Foods cannot happen while Amazon holds the keys.”

“It’s little more than an Amazon locker that sells food.”

He continued: “After five years, it’s clear that Amazon doesn’t quite know what to do with Whole Foods – there’s no apparent overall purpose or meaning left. It’s little more than a locker Amazon selling food.”

Brian Delph, the general manager of New Sega Home, agreed.

“Perception is reality,” Delph added. “Whole Foods can never shake consumer awareness that it is committed to Amazon. This association completely deflects all efforts toward a high purpose and will always nullify efforts unless separated at the coming.”

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