whole Foods: Green Giant

How Whole Foods reinvented the supermarket by making organic produce a hot commodity

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You may or may not be familiar with the Whole Foods mission—to sell you organic bananas, hormone-free meat and a host of other natural products that promote health and the environment. But for anyone who steps through the door of one of its stores, a secondary agenda becomes impossible to miss: Whole Foods is hell-bent on doing nothing less than delighting you.

The directive appears on the second line of the highly circulated list of core values, pithy mantras that trip off the tongues of the company's 40,000 devoted employees. The five-item diktat begins, "We sell the highest quality natural and organic products available. We satisfy and delight our customers."

If the optimism of that dreamy decree seems more like something that's found in the required reading of Disney employees than those of a natural-food store, indeed, it is that very breathless, what's-around-the-next-corner excitement that Whole Foods seeks to inspire.

Delight, grocery store--style, translates to a visual and material extravaganza, an ever-changing display of creativity, artistry, abundance, charm, eclecticism, authenticity, originality and extremely high quality, with each element served up with a large dose of surprise, not only because it is designed to do so but also because the age-old American supermarket is so devoid of anything remotely resembling enchantment.

At the Whole Foods store in Austin, Texas, for instance, delight appears around one corner in the form of a secret "beer cave," a frosty grotto stocked floor to ceiling with unusual beers from all over the world. Customers can sample and even drink them as they shop. In Columbus, Ohio, delight materializes as 16 types of fresh heirloom eggs, their rainbow of colors displayed in a row of baskets so they can be chosen individually.

And at every Whole Foods store, delight comes in the form of the pervading smell of freshly ground and brewed organic coffee (Whole Foods owns the beanery), the informative and amusing handcrafted wooden signs (PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO: THIS RAW MILD CHEESE IS THE FIRST ALL-NATURAL FOOD IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM SELECTED TO GO ON THE SPACE STATION) and, most conspicuously, from the rolling hills of Argentinean blueberries, heirloom tomatoes, Moro oranges and luscious produce, which seem to go on forever, even spilling out the door and into the parking lot in some locations.

"The whole idea is to blow your mind about a grocery store," says Walter Robb, co-president and co- coo of Whole Foods. "This is not your typical grocery store and not your typical shopping experience."

Chalk it up to its '70s-hippie origins that this multibillion-dollar company has, at its heart, a mission statement that is warm and fuzzy. In fact, it is that revolutionary sense of wonder and possibility, combined with industry savvy and a highly relevant message of global health and integrity, that has helped Whole Foods become the fourth largest food chain in the U.S. and the biggest and most profitable retailer of natural and organic foods on the planet.

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