Healthy Foods

Things Whole Foods doesn't want you to know

There are few supermarket chains that enjoy a better reputation than Whole Foods Market. With nearly 400 locations, about 60,000 employees, and almost $13 billion in revenue for 2013, its dedication to selling natural and organic foods has clearly struck a chord with a population that’s looking to eat healthier, less-processed foods. But like any big company, there are plenty of things going on behind the scenes that they’d probably be happier if you didn’t know about.

Whole Foods has quite an intriguing history. Founders John Mackey and Renee Lawson borrowed $45,000 from friends and family to open a health food store called SaferWay in Austin in 1978, and after being evicted from their apartment for storing food in it, they took up residence in the store itself. Two years later, Mackey partnered with the owners of another natural store and opened the original Whole Foods, which was one of the largest health food stores in the country at the time. The following year, a flood devastated the store, resulting in about $400,000 in damages, but it had become so beloved by that time that the community pitched in to help it recover, and it reopened less than a month later.

Like many companies that expand rapidly, Whole Foods swallowed up everything in its path. It went public in 1992, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s they acquired other natural food stores everywhere they went, including Wellspring Grocery in North Carolina, Bread & Circus in Massachusetts, Fresh Fields  on the East Coast and in the Midwest, and Bread of Life in Northern California and Florida. The 100th store opened in 1999, the first Manhattan location opened in 2001, and in 2005 they moved into new offices above an 80,000-square-foot flagship store in downtown Austin. They’re still expanding today (although their stock value isn’t doing so great), and have even gone international with locations in Canada and the U.K.

With a real focus on selling only the highest-quality products, minimally processed and free of anything artificial, Whole Foods has earned itself a loyal fan base. While it’s certainly trustworthy, there are some things that you most likely didn’t know about how they operate, like unexpected ways to save money, a surprising way that employees can get a higher discount, and ways that they’ve been ruffling feathers. Read on for 9 things Whole Foods probably doesn’t want you to know.

  • 1. Skip the bulk nuts

    Skip the bulk nuts

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    For items like nuts, you’ll save money by shopping elsewhere. Instead of $9.99 per pound at Whole Foods, you’ll pay closer to $5.99 per pound for the same product elsewhere.

  • 2. The healthier you are, the higher your employee discount

    The healthier you are, the higher your employee discount

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    All employees get a 20-percent discount, which is quite generous. But in an effort to drive down their own health care costs, employees are screened for BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, and nicotine, and those who pass can get their employee discount bumped up as high as 30 percent (the screening is mandatory in some states but not in others). That’s a pretty good motivator to stay in shape!

  • 3. You’ll find cheaper produce elsewhere

    You’ll find cheaper produce elsewhere

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    While you can expect to pay more for organic produce at Whole Foods, even conventional produce is more expensive at Whole Foods, sometimes by more than a dollar a pound.

  • 4. Organic isn't always more eco-friendly than local

    Organic isn't always more eco-friendly than local

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    There are plenty of reasons to shop organic, but being eco-friendly isn’t always one of them. If you’re in New York, organic tomatoes trucked all the way from California are far worse for the environment than non-organic ones from New Jersey. And while some of the produce at Whole Foods is local, not all of it is, so double-check the source before buying.

  • 5. They discount meat right before they close

    They discount meat right before they close

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    If you arrive about a half hour or so before they close, some locations will discount meat from the butcher case.

    Find out what else Whole Foods doesn't want you to know.

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