Whole Foods Market's (NASDAQ:WFM) story as a stock may be coming to an end with Amazon's $13.7 billion acquisition, but the company's influence will only continue to grow. With Amazon's reach and financial resources, Whole Foods' pace of innovation should only quicken, and the company that pioneered the organic foods trend could help drive the next revolution in grocery retail.
By now, most Americans are familiar with the business and its nearly 500 stores across the country, but there may be a few things about this grocery chain that will surprise you.
1. High fructose corn syrup is banned from Whole Foods
As part of its commitment to natural and organic foods, the company doesn't sell anything with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). That's why you won't see sodas like Coca-Cola or name-brand products in other categories that often have HFCS. In fact, HFCS is just one of nearly 100 ingredients that the company bans, which include artificial flavors and preservatives and aspartame. That commitment separates Whole Foods from other grocers, building trust with customers who want to be sure their purchases don't include unhealthy or unnatural ingredients.
2. Whole Foods has made 15 acquisitions in its history
While Whole Foods' growth is often seen as organic, meaning the company opened new stores under its own banner, in reality, much of its growth has come from acquisitions of regional chains. The company started in Austin in 1980 and branched out from there, buying Whole Food Company in New Orleans and chains like Bread & Circus in New England, Fresh Fields in the Mid-Atlantic region, and Wild Oats in 2007, which was its biggest acquisition with 109 stores in 23 states.
3. Whole Foods was almost wiped out by a flood
Many start-ups go through shaky times and near-death experiences, and Whole Foods was no different. Less than a year after its opening, Austin was hit by the worst flood in 70 years. Whole Foods lost over $400,000 in inventory and damaged equipment with no insurance. Customers and neighbors pitched in to fix up the store, and Whole Foods' creditors and vendors gave the company leeway to reopen, which it did just 28 days after the flood.
4. CEO John Mackey's salary is just $1 a year
CEO and co-founder John Mackey is an advocate of "Conscious Capitalism", a philosophy that believes businesses are most successful when they seek to serve all stakeholders. Mackey has taken a number of controversial and surprising stances over his career, including his decision to forgo a salary in 2007 and working for just $1 a year since then. He does not earn a bonus or have stock options either. Explaining his decision to employees, he said, "The tremendous success of Whole Foods Market has provided me more money than I ever dreamed I'd have, and far more than is necessary for either my financial security or personal happiness."
5. The flagship store has some surprising perks
Whole Foods' flagship store in Austin is an 80,000 square-foot foodie mecca. It offers perks like walking-around beers for shoppers. The flagship also has a full liquor license and two bars, one of which is a wine bar. Dessert fans won't be disappointed either, as there is a gelato bar and a chocolatier stand. And there's even an ice skating rink on the roof for patrons to enjoy before or after they've done their grocery shopping.
As the organic grocer transitions to its next life under Amazon's umbrella, followers of the company should expect even more surprising changes and innovation. Amazon is known for experimentation, so I'd expect a large variety of tests in fulfillment and pricing as it aims to return the Whole Foods business to growth. But under the ongoing guidance of John Mackey, core components that have made the company and the culture unique should remain.