11 Things You Didn't Know About Whole Foods

Love it or hate it, Whole Foods Market has become one of the best-known and most revolutionary food stores in America. But even if you refuse to shop for food anywhere else, we bet that there are some things you didn't know about this insanely popular chain.

11 Things You Didn't Know About Whole Foods (Slideshow)

Like most companies, Whole Foods started off small. It was the brainchild of founders John Mackey and Renee Lawson, who in 1978 borrowed $45,000 to open a natural foods store in Austin. They called it SaferWay, a spoof of popular supermarket brand Safeway. In 1980 they merged with a health food shop called Clarksville Natural Grocery, and the resulting first Whole Foods Market opened September 20, 1980.

The next several decades are a story of rapid expansion and increasing cultural influence. Whether Whole Foods inspired the current movement toward eating healthier and less processed foods or is simply piggybacking on it is up for debate, but you can't deny that the company plays a major role in the current conversation about what we put into our bodies. They were the first nationally certified organic grocer in the country; all their meat is antibiotic- and hormone-free, and animal welfare is a top priority; their private-label 365 products are free of artificial flavorings, colorings, sweeteners, preservatives, and hydrogenated fats; and nearly 4,800 products sold at Whole Foods are Non-GMO Project-verified.

Whole Foods definitely came along at the right time, and today there are about 420 locations, with $12.9 billion in revenue (and $551 million in net income) in 2013. John Mackey is still with the company as CEO and is today one of the most influential voices in the organic food movement. A Fortune 500 company, it's also the 30th most productive retailer in the country in terms of revenue. Any way you slice it, it's clear that Whole Foods is on a roll. Read on for 11 things you may not have known about the company.

The Founders Were Forced to Live at the First Store 

Shortly after opening SaferWay, Mackey and Lawson were evicted from their home because they stored food products there. To save money, they decided to live at the store, which had no shower because it was zoned for commercial use. They bathed by using a shower hose attached to the dishwasher.

The First Store Was Completely Destroyed a Year After It Opened

On May 25, 1981, a year after the first Whole Foods opened, it was completely destroyed when the most damaging flood in 70 years hit Austin. Four hundred thousand dollars' worth of inventory and equipment was ruined, and the company had no insurance. But customers, neighbors, staff members, investors, vendors, and even creditors pitched in to help get the store back on its feet, and it reopened less than a month later.