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2 Reasons Whole Foods Exudes the Spirit of the Season

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Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men may be a seasonal pursuit for most of us, but Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) maintains that attitude all year 'round. Here are two of the biggest reasons why Whole Foods Market exemplifies corporate goodwill.

1. Caring about workers
In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is a mean old banker so stingy, he won't even add a single lump of coal to the fire in his frigid office. Miserly though Scrooge may be, these days he's rapidly being outdone by financial companies like AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) . Whether they're accepting bailout money from taxpayers, haranguing the government to let them spend more of those funds on their own bonuses, or devising new ways to extract fees from customers, these fiscal titans seem long overdue for a visit from a few Christmas ghosts of their own. (Feel free to fling your own seasonal jabs at these ne'er-do-wells in the comments below.)

In contrast, Whole Foods Market incorporates a far more benevolent concept it calls "shared fate" into its corporate mission. Workers vote on benefits. Management pay is capped at 19 times that of the average worker. And most stock options go to rank-and-file employees, not the top tiers of management.

Furthermore, regardless of what you think of CEO and founder John Mackey's thoughts on the health care debate and other issues, several years ago he said he "no longer wanted to work for money." He promptly donated all the stock options he was eligible to receive to the company's various charitable foundations. (Like Mackey, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Steve Jobs also works for a $1 annual salary -- but he's amply compensated in other ways.)

Like Costco's (Nasdaq: COST  ) Jim Sinegal, Mackey was never what you'd call an overpaid retail CEO to begin with (as opposed to, say, Abercrombie & Fitch's (NYSE: ANF  ) Mike Jeffries). Sinegal and Mackey both seem more rewarded by running great, solid retail businesses than by the paychecks they collect to do so.

2. A kinder capitalism
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge refused to donate to an organization for the poor and destitute. "Are there no prisons?" he famously huffed. "Are there no workhouses?" When told that some would rather die than seek such accomodations, he chillingly responded: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Mackey's vision for Whole Foods Market rejects such a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog view of the world, in favor of what the CEO dubs conscious capitalism. In Mackey's view, caring for all stakeholders helps his company compete on a much higher and better level for the long haul.

Whole Foods also donates at least 5% of its after-tax profits to not-for-profit organizations, including those that work in local communities. It created The Whole Planet Foundation, which forms economic partnerships in the developing world, including micro-loans to assist poor women start home-based businesses in the company's producer communities. In addition, Whole Foods makes low-interest loans to the local farmers and suppliers with whom it does business, helping them produce more high-quality goods for the grocer's shelves.

Peace out
Whole Foods champions many other progressive concepts, such as environmental stewardship and animal welfare standards. A company with such heady philosophical missions shouldn't be taken lightly. Its kinder, more enlightened form of capitalism doesn't just fit the spirit of the holiday season -- I think it should be any company's goal all year long.

Got other examples of companies making the world a better place? Don't be a Scrooge -- share them in the comment boxes below!

Apple, Costco, and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Costco is a Motley Fool Inside Valuepick. The Fool owns shares of Costco and wrote a bear put spread on Abercrombie & Fitch. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (11)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2009, at 4:27 PM, Fool wrote:

    another great thing is the quality of food they sell!

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2009, at 8:12 PM, onemoof wrote:

    Trader Joe's will destroy Whole Foods with lower prices and a larger base of small stores scattered in areas where Whole Foods does most of their business.

  • Report this Comment On December 20, 2009, at 5:14 PM, freddywalky wrote:

    Whole Foods and Trader Joe's overlap but they are totally different. I shop at both for different things. They are both Firms of endearment; they take care of their people and customers and in return, they earn a tremendous loyalty from the same groups. I don't think TJ's will destroy WF: they simply don't play in the same arena.

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