Historically, natural, organic, and local goods were only available to the most immediate of geographical regions. It has been within in the past ten years that the average consumer has had access to locally sourced, natural, and organic products. While the option of the local farmer is available to some, for many there was no convenient way to acquire said goods however, with the advent of natural markets it is no longer a problem. This paper examines one such company – Whole Foods Market, which is seen by many as the forefront in bringing local, organic, and eco-friendly products and stores to the masses.
In 1978, with a desire to bring naturally grown and locally sourced food to the Austin, Texas community two college dropouts created a small grocery store named Saferway. A direct connotation of Safeway grocery stores, Saferway was established to bring “safer” foods to the local community (Market History, 2013). This innovative idea of natural and local items was initially stagnant, however with perseverance and personal sacrifice, Saferway grew into the groundbreaking Whole Foods Market.
The corner of Eighth and Rio Grande in Austin, Texas (Smith, 2005) was the location to change the grocer world. Twenty-five year old John Mackey (a college dropout) and his twenty-one year old girlfriend Rene Lawson Hardy started with $45,000 of borrowed money and a goal. Their goal was to prove that the natural foods industry was ready to join the supermarket world (Market History, 2013). With the help of family and friends, who were the lenders, John and Rene opened a small natural foods store called Saferway. This was a direct “spoof” of Safeway supermarket chain operating inside of Austin (Market History). With a goal larger than their storefront, the pair began storing food within their apartment, which eventually left them on the street after eviction. With limited options, they began living inside of the commercial property. Without proper amenities they were left showering in the dishwasher (Market History). This level of commitment continued for two years when approached by Craig Weller and Mark Skiles of Clarksville Natural Grocery resulted in a merger of the two corporations and the opening of the original Whole Foods Market on September 20, 1980 (Market History). Additionally, at 12,500 square feet and with a staff of 19 this was quite large for a store of its kind at the time.
From this point Whole Foods Market continued to flourish allowing for the company to begin further expansion in 1984. Expanding from Austin, a storefront was established in Houston and Dallas (Market History, 2013). From there, New Orleans followed suit after the purchase of The Whole Food Company in 1988 (Market History). The following year came the largest expansion for the company by establishing a store in Palo Alto, California. It was at this point that the company began to purchase many other companies. Pulled directly from their corporate history, they quickly acquired the following companies throughout the 1990’s:
Wellspring Grocery of North Carolina, Bread & Circus of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Markets of Los Angeles, Bread of Life of Northern California, Fresh Fields Markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Florida Bread of Life stores, Detroit area Merchant of Vino stores, and Nature's Heartland of Boston.
During this time the company went public in 1992 trading shares on the NASDAQ Stock Market as WFMI [changed to WFM in 2011] (NASDAQ, 2013). Continuing with their original scope of offering “natural and organic products” the company was still only operating within the United States. Their total market distribution limited to Texas, California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, Michigan, and New York City. It was not until 2002 that Whole Foods Market broke through into the Canadian market with their first store in Toronto, Ontario