The Wind Beneath Whole Foods' Wings

Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) knows very well what appeals to its customers. That was made even more evident by the organic grocers' announcement Tuesday that it will subsidize its energy use with renewable wind credits in an innovative move that should resonate well with its environmentally aware customer base.

Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Whole Foods said that it's making an "historic" purchase of renewable energy credits from wind farms to offset 100% of the energy it projects it will use in 2006 to run its stores, facilities, bake houses, distribution centers, offices, and headquarters in the U.S. and Canada.

Whole Foods pointed out in its press release that it is the only Fortune 500 company that's purchasing wind energy credits to offset all of its energy use (although many companies are also purchasing some wind energy credits, such as Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) , Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , and grocer Safeway (Nasdaq: SWY  ) ). Many companies -- and investors -- are likely watching carefully to see how such moves positively affect brands.

Bear in mind, though, that wind power can't be physically delivered to all of Whole Foods' stores. In buying the credits from Renewable Choice Energy, Whole Foods is in effect subsidizing the production of energy from wind farms. Yes, that's making an important statement pertaining to the ways that people and corporations can take some responsibility and give back to the environment and foster cleaner sources of energy than that generated by fossil fuel.

Given the idea that this sounds remarkably similar to a monetary donation, many investors might think it sounds more altruistic -- and costly -- than beneficial to the company's bottom line. Whole Foods declined to disclose what it's paying for the wind energy credits. Clearly, investors should have a certain degree of concern regarding costs and how they might influence profits at this powerhouse of a company, shares of which, of course, historically trade at very high multiples.

Regardless, this rather unconventional decision underlines that, historically, Whole Foods has been an extremely unconventional company and has prospered exactly for that reason. Environmental concern merely strengthens what Whole Foods represents to its customers. In the press release, Whole Foods mentioned that comment cards showed that cleaner energy like wind is important to both its customers and employees. Whole Foods' brand encompasses not only the organic, healthy-eating lifestyle but environmentally conscious living, as well. (You might recall that it recently started testing out a concept store that peddles environmentally friendly wares.)

Given Whole Foods' history of disruptive innovations, shareholders might very well calm their short-term concerns and continue to focus on the long-term vision that this maverick company has always pursued. It seems to me that moves like this one give customers one more reason to feel good about frequenting Whole Foods -- and that should have a positive impact on sales.

If you're hungry for some more recent content on Whole Foods and its rivals, take a look at the following:

Whole Foods Market is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. To see what other stocks David and Tom Gardner have recommended for long-term gains, click here for a 30-day free trial.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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