11 Things You Didn't Know About Whole Foods

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.

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. 

It Expanded Primarily by Acquiring Its Competitors

Like many companies that expand rapidly, Whole Foods swallowed up everything in its path. It purchased the Whole Food Company in 1988, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s acquired other natural food stores everywhere it went, including Wellspring Grocery in North Carolina, Bread & Circus in Massachusetts, Fresh Fields on the East Coast and in the Midwest, Mrs. Gooch's in Los Angeles, Merchant of Vino in Detroit, Bread of Life in Northern California and Florida, and Food For Thought in Northern California.

It Has Struggled in the United Kingdom

The company opened its first full-sized U.K. store in 2007, three years after acquiring seven Fresh & Wild stores. By September 2008, however, three of the Fresh & Wilds had shut down, and due to financial troubles they weren't meeting profitability goals. Things are beginning to turn around, however: Today, there are nine Whole Foods locations in the U.K., the majority in London

Employees Aren’t Allowed to Interfere with Shoplifters

While some locations hire security guards, many have no protections against shoplifters. The company has a "no heroes policy," so store employees are strictly forbidden from trying to stop shoplifters. 

The Store Has a Lengthy ‘Unacceptable Food Ingredients List’

This list is constantly changing and growing, and decisions on what isn't sold are based "not just on food chemistry, but also ideology, philosophy, proper labeling, and a careful evaluation of the promise we've made to our customers," according to the company. All foods sold at Whole Foods are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats, but they also won't sell any foods that contain any of about 80 specifically defined ingredients, including aspartame, bleached flour, foie gras, MSG, nitrates/nitrites, and benzoyl peroxide. 

The Selection Is Different at Every Store

Every store hires what they call a "forager," whose job is to find great local products to feature at their location. The definition of "local" is left up to each individual store, but it usually means the product is grown within state lines. The company also loans independent farmers, producers, and artisan producers up to $10 million yearly through its Local Producer Loan Program

It Donates at Least Five Percent of Its Net Profits to Charity

The company accomplishes this by targeting individual groups to directly donate to, or by hosting "5% Days" during which five percent of all proceeds for a given day are donated to a specific cause. 

It’s Been Sued and Investigated for Some Crazy Reasons

In 2013, the company was investigated after two workers at the Albuquerque store were suspended for speaking Spanish. The investigation revealed that the company had an English-only policy, which was quickly revised after public outcry. Whole Foods was also forced to pay an $800,000 settlement after it was discovered that California stores were charging more than the per-pound price on the label. Mackey admitted earlier this year that this problem is still widespread, if unintentional. The company was also sued in 2008 over the presence of a carcinogen called 1,4-Dioxane in some of its soaps, and in 2013 because of minute amounts of lead in some candies. 

It’s Staunchly Anti-Union

Whole Foods claims that its good treatment of workers makes the need for unions unnecessary, and Mackey believes that unions only serve to  distance workers from management. When workers at a Madison, Wisconsin, store attempted to unionize in 2002, they were quickly shot down, and the company was accused of union-busting. 

Employees Get Bigger Discounts by Staying in Shape

All employees get a 20-percent discount, which is quite generous. But in an effort to drive down the company's healthcare 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).