What Is Whole Foods and Is It Really That Organic?

People who like Whole Foods are really into Whole Foods. They buy into the grocery store’s claims of totally organic foods and they’re willing to pay a premium price for them. For those of us not indoctrinated into the Whole Foods family, we are left wondering if it’s really worth the hype. So let’s find out together.

What is Whole Foods?

Today, Whole Foods is an international grocery store chain with approximately 500 locations throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. But like most groceries, it had humble local beginnings.

Related: What Is Kroger?

In 1980, two Austinites named John Mackey and Renee Lawson opened a grocery store named SaferWay, focusing on vegetarian and natural foods. They eventually merged with another local grocer, changed the name to Whole Foods, and expanded their offerings to include meat. Their store was a true community enterprise; after a flood decimated their inventory and equipment, customers and neighbors rallied to restore the store and it re-opened in less than a month.

Whole Foods began expansion in Texas and beyond, officially going public in 1992. They grew rapidly, opening their 100th store by 1999. Their quaint beginnings had turned to overreaching capitalism, gobbling up other local stores, and casual run-ins with the FTC over antitrust laws.

Related: What Is Hy-Vee?

The store’s focus has always been on natural and organic foods. In the past, they strictly adhered to the USDA’s standards for organic foods and they refused to sell animal products that came from scenarios involving animal cruelty. They were also one of the early adopters of the GMO-free label on their products. However, they still garnered criticism; in 2015, after investigations of animal cruelty at their suppliers, many animal advocacy groups condemned the store in an open letter to Mackey

Who owns Whole Foods?

Mackey owned Whole Foods and worked as CEO of Whole Foods for most of the store’s existence. His record as a leader has not been without controversy; he is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in a national push for a boycott. There was also an embarrassing case in which two workers in New Mexico were fired for speaking Spanish at work as a result of store policy. 

Related: Best Things to Buy at Trader Joe’s

In 2017, Whole Foods was bought by another controversial leader: Jeff Bezos. Under the umbrella of Amazon, Whole Foods continues to be anti-union and even cut benefits for their part-time workers in 2019. And in 2020, they received significant and justified backlash when two of their store employees were sent home for wearing clothing supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Is Whole Foods expensive?

According to Investopedia, the average Whole Foods used to be 10%-20% more expensive than the average grocery store. But since being acquired by Amazon, Whole Foods prices have dropped. Today, they are just slightly above Kroger’s prices. And there are deals to be found. (Sporked’s Jordan Myrick wrote up an entire article on how to save money at Whole Foods.) That’s because it’s no longer the only grocery store where you can find organic foods. 

Related: 5 Clever Ways to Save Money on Groceries

Though it began as a small business success story, Whole Foods is now part of one of the biggest companies in the world. It might not be Whole Paycheck anymore, but it still has its problems. That said, the 365 roasted garlic hummus is still one of the best and Sporked ranked their blue cheese dressings up at the top of the list. So, maybe balance out those purchases by shopping locally for your produce. Who knows, your local grocer could be the next big box store.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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