If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Sam Fromartz’s interview with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey on Fromartz’s Chews Wise blog. It’s divided into two parts — the first focusing on financials and the current economy, the second on ethics, standards and some of the top trends that are influencing the business.
As always, Mackey is as brazen as he is insightful. Right off the bat, he said that if he could go back in time he wouldn’t do the Wild Oats deal because of the regulatory sparring it caused with the Federal Trade Commission. The ordeal has cost Whole Foods millions of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the unearthing of Mackey’s embarrassing online alter ego, “rahodeb”. Given where things stand, though, Mackey wants to see the former Oats stores and its employees through a full transition.
Mackey’s regret may have made for a quote of the day, but it was his discussion about humane certification that proved most interesting from a trade perspective. This summer, he said, Whole Foods will start to employ a third-party rating system for its products. Based on a one-through-five scale (one being the lowest, five being the highest), the program looks to award high marks to manufacturers that practice the ethical ideal for their market. That means, as Mackey implies, that the “free-range” chicken that actually roam on pasture will be rated noticeably higher than the “free-range” chicken that is confined to a barn and just have access to pasture.
This is yet another step for the in-store rating system movement (Hannaford’s Guiding Stars, Topco’s ONQI), which seeks to hold manufacturers to higher standards and, in Whole Foods case, cut down on the wriggle room within such label claims as free range and organic. Mackey also said he and Whole Foods officials want to expand their sustainable seafood initiatives, though how exactly they’ll go about this seems to be something they struggle with.
It’s nice to see Mackey talking — and blogging — again. He’s one of the most interesting minds in the business, and though he may have a tendency to spout off and get himself into trouble, he can also be refreshingly honest and on target.