13 things you probably didn't know about Whole Foods

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesWhole Foods has a lot going on behind the scenes.
  • Whole Foods started as a small store called SaferWay.
  • The company has an emphasis on charity and giving back.
  • The store banned plastic bags in 2008.
  • Amazon Prime users get a discount at Whole Foods.

Whether you love Whole Foods or have never set foot in the supermarket, there’s no denying the chain’s influence on the organic food landscape.

From how the company got started to the reason behind its “open salary” policy, here are 13 facts about Whole Foods.

Whole Foods began as a small health food store opened by a 25-year-old college dropout.

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesWhole Foods CEO John Mackey.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey forayed into the health food business with SaferWay, a small store he and his girlfriend at the time, Renee Lawson Hardy, opened in Austin, Texas, in 1978.

Mackey was a 25-year-old college dropout when he and Lawson Hardy borrowed $US45,000 from family and friends to open the shop, whose name playfully riffed on the supermarket chain Safeway.

Co-founders Mackey and Lawson Hardy lived at their store.

After getting kicked out of their apartment for storing SaferWay inventory there, Mackey and Lawson Hardy decided to live at the store. But the building had commercial zoning, so there was no shower.

“Renee and I would take showers in the Hobart dishwasher in the restaurant, you know, using the spray hose,” Mackey said in a 2004 interview with Fast Company.

Mackey follows a plant-based diet.

Tatiana Volgutova/ShutterstockMackey has been a vegetarian since he was in his 20s.

Mackey became a vegetarian when he was in his 20s and still follows a plant-based diet today.

“In my 20s, I moved into a vegetarian co-op and that was the beginning of my own food consciousness journey,” he said in an interview with NBC News. “I was a very picky eater. I never ate vegetables, but within a pretty short period of time I became a vegetarian.”

The OG Whole Foods was damaged in a flood.

Whole Foods MarketThe original store flooded.

Whole Foods resulted from a merger between SaferWay and another Austin store called Clarksville Natural Grocery. However, the original location was severely damaged by a flood in 1981 (the land was situated in a 100-year-flood zone, an area that floods once a century).

“We were really united around that near-death experience,” Mackey told CNBC. “I wanted to open a second store after the flood. It was like, we can’t put all of our eggs in a basket that might float down the river.”

The local community, as well as investors and vendors, helped keep the store afloat in the wake of the destruction.

The company expanded by purchasing other natural food chains.

Whole Foods first expanded in Texas by opening locations in Dallas and Houston. Then, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the company began purchasing other natural food chains, such as New Orleans-based Whole Food Company and Bread & Circus, a chain in New England that sold natural food alongside wooden toys.

Whole Foods branched into e-commerce in the late ’90s.

Gaia.comWhole Foods has been working in e-commerce for a while.

Long before Amazon acquired it in 2017, Whole Foods hopped on the e-commerce bandwagon with a business called WholePeople.com.

The site eventually merged with yoga and wellness company Gaiam, Inc. (now Gaia, Inc.) to form Gaia.com.

The chain’s stores have been plastic bag-free since 2008.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesThe company now uses paper bags and containers from recycled materials.

In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, Whole Foods stopped bagging groceries in disposable plastic bags in 2008.

Some of the company’s other eco-friendly initiatives range from using solar energy at 60 stores and facilities to packaging food in containers made from recycled materials.

Whole Foods operates several charitable foundations.

For instance, the Whole Kids Foundation gives back to schools and focuses on children’s nutrition, while the Whole Cities Foundation is dedicated to educating underserved communities about healthy eating.

Employees have open salaries.

Katy Winn/Getty Images for IMGMackey doesn’t believe in having secrets from Whole Foods employees.

At Whole Foods, compensation data has been available to employees since 1986.

“If you’re trying to create a high-trust organisation, an organisation where people are all-for-one and one-for-all, you can’t have secrets,” Mackey said, as quoted in the book “The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers.”

Despite being CEO, Mackey himself has an annual salary of $US1.

Since 2007, Mackey has chosen to earn a salary of $US1 a year. Along with Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, he’s one of a handful of top executives who have elected to be compensated as little as possible.

“I have reached a place in my life where I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart,” he explained in a letter to employees that was published by Fast Company.

There are more than 470 locations in three countries.

David McNew/Getty ImagesWhole Foods are in three countries.

Whole Foods operates more than 470 stores in the US, UK, and Canada.

The company has a budget-focused chain called Whole Foods 365.

David McNew/Getty ImagesWhole Foods also has their own brand.

If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods, you might be familiar with the store’s in-house 365 brand. That’s also the name of the company’s growing, budget-focused chain, which has locations in Canada and in some states across the US.

Amazon Prime members enjoy a variety of perks at Whole Foods.

AmazonAmazon Prime memberships save 10% on some things at Whole Foods.

If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can can save 10% on sale items and get weekly discounts on best-selling goods.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

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