Socially Responsible Investing Meets Food

Last month, I wrote about my reasons for finally investing in Whole Foods Market  (NASDAQ: WFM  ) , musing ever so gently, yet firmly and reproachingly, to myself, "What in the world took me so long?"

That's because Whole Foods, I discovered far later than most, is one of the most perfect financial marriages between long-term performance and social responsibility I'd ever find: a company for which social responsibility goes to the very core of the enterprise, and a company that's performing at the very peak of its corporate powers.

Lo and behold, what drops into my Motley Fool email box this morning but a press release touting yet another great program demonstrating the company's unique and unwavering commitment to social responsibility.

FoodFight
No, I'm not talking about the classic scene from Animal House, where John Belushi's Bluto screams those very same words to a crowded college cafeteria, inciting the food fight to end all food fights -- though that also brings a smile to my face.

FoodFight is the name of a nonprofit educational organization with a mission as equally unique as Whole Foods': "to revolutionize how teachers and students think about food, consumerism, and health." And now Whole Foods, through its Whole Kids Foundation, has teamed up with FoodFight to expand the organization's Teacher Wellness Program to six U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Boulder, Colo., and New Haven, Conn.

According to the press release, the joint program "examines the social, political and economic forces that shape what we eat and offers strategies for improving health to help empower teachers and students to make healthier, conscious choices as consumers." The curriculum can be broken down into two major components:

  • Part one focuses on media literacy: "deconstructing existing notions of food, consumer culture and how advertising and branding influences what we eat."
  • Part two focuses on the basics: "nutrition education and practical skills to support healthier eating habits including cooking classes and tips for navigating the supermarket."

The goal of this pilot program is to eventually reach 2,000 teachers in the U.S. "Teachers have the power to profoundly influence students' attitudes toward food," says FoodFight's co-founder Carolyn Cohen, "and act as a powerful resource when it comes to ending our nation's obesity epidemic." A noble goal for a program from two noble organizations.

A business at the peak of its powers
I covered this information in greater depth in my previous article, but here's a quick recap of how Whole Foods stacks up against its peers -- because if a company isn't performing up to snuff as a business, it doesn't matter what it's doing when it comes to social responsibility.

  • Quarterly revenue: Whole Foods grew its revenue by a whopping 23.6% year over year. Safeway's (NYSE: SWY  ) actually contracted by 0.2%, while, at 3.9%, Kroger's (NYSE: KR  ) barely grew.
  • Quarterly earnings: Whole Foods grew its earnings by a staggering 49.4% year over year. Safeway actually had great earnings growth, at 20.6%, while Kroger's contracted by 0.7%.
  • Cash-to-debt ratio: It's always good to have more cash than debt on the balance sheet, ideally at least 1.5 times more. $1.2 billion in cash and $24 million in debt give Whole Foods the brilliant C/D of 50. $267 million in cash and $6.4 billion in debt give Safeway the not-so-brilliant C/D of 0.04. And $238 million in cash and $8.2 billion in debt give Kroger the even-less-brilliant C/D of 0.03.

Who says nobody's perfect?
AsI wrote earlier, Whole Foods is one of the most perfect financial marriages you'll find between long-term performance and social responsibility. This joint program with FoodFight is another fine feather in Whole Foods' socially responsible cap. Thank you, co-CEO John Mackey, for giving investors a company they can believe in and profit from.

Just dying to know more about Whole Foods, my fellow Fools? Check out our new report on the organic-foods pioneer. In it, our analysts walk you through the key must-know items for every Whole Foods investor, including the axial opportunities and threats facing the company. We also provide a full year of regular analyst updates to go with it. Get your copy now by clicking here.


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  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2012, at 1:25 PM, TripleEFocus1 wrote:

    John, just read your article and the previous one. Good ones! a belated welcome to the Triple-P-Ranch of making a Profit while caring for People and Planet. Good to have another ranch hand on the trail drive towards real sustainability.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2012, at 5:51 PM, TripleEFocus1 wrote:

    John, just read your article and the previous one. Good ones! a belated welcome to the Triple-P-Ranch of making a Profit while caring for People and Planet. Good to have another ranch hand on the trail drive towards real sustainability.

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