Whole Foods is basically the mainstream mecca for healthy food. You can definitely buy organic food elsewhere, but the chain has managed to fill a space in the market that attracts pretty much everyone who isn't opposed to corporate chains or spending $20 on a salad. If you go to Whole Foods a lot, you probably know a ton about the store. But here are 12 interesting things that you might not know -- and that you definitely want to know.
12 The First Store Opened In 1980
Whole Foods definitely seems like a modern miracle, but the first store actually opened back in 1980 in Austin, Texas. Of course, that was way before the brand became the giant that it is, and at the time it only employed 19 people. Here's where things get way interesting: some of those original 19 employees actually still work for the company. Talk about longevity: I haven't even been alive that long let alone been that committed to anything. As of September 2015, the company had 91,000 employees and 431 stores.
11 The Co-Founders Actually Lived In The Store
When co-founders John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy found the first location for their store, it was a house zoned for commercial use. They decided to sleep on the third floor, have a cafe on the second, and sell the produce and other goods on the ground floor. They had previously been evicted from their apartment because they stored food there, because apparently not everyone thinks living in a grocery store sounds fun. Since it was commercially zoned, the house didn't have a shower, so they resorted to using the dishwasher hose.
10 The Austin Store Was Flooded
A year after the first Whole Foods opened, there was a really bad flood in Austin. It was so bad that it's still considered one of the worst ones to ever hit the city. The store was greatly affected by the flood to the tune of $400,000 and they didn't have any insurance at the time, but the community rallied together to help out and the store's vendors gave them a break on getting their cash flow back on track. They were able to reopen the store in only 28 days.
9 The First West Coast Store Was In Palo Alto
Back in 1989, the company extended to the West Coast and chose Palo Alto, California. The company also started acquiring other grocery stores throughout the 1990s including 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.
8 The Biggest Supermarket In NYC Is A Whole Foods
New York is known for having a lot of small neighborhood shops and their grocery stores are no exception. But the Whole Foods located in the Bowery is the largest supermarket in the entire city. In 2013, two men actually robbed this Whole Foods, making it out with $60,000. One news report concluded with: "Following the robbery, we expect the two thieves were able to purchase approximately two-and-a-half days’ worth of gluten-free flatbreads and carob powder. #WholeFoodsIsPricey."
7 The Biggest Whole Foods Is Its Austin Location
It makes sense that Whole Foods would keep its flagship headquarters in Austin... and that, since it's in Texas, it's also the biggest store location that there is. The building has since been expanded, of course. I've been there and it's quite a sight at 80,000 square feet. In case numbers like 80,000 square feet mean nothing to you, the average size of an American football field is a measly 57,600 square feet. So, that's pretty huge. Above the store, the company has its official headquarters, and for some reason, an ice skating rink. No wonder the motto is "Keep Austin Weird."
6 Whole Foods Was The First Certified Organic Grocer
That's right, it's not just a pretty face. Whole Foods is the first certified organic grocer which means that it ensures the standards of the National Organic Program from start to finish. They exclusively feature foods that have no artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats. Boom. That's also why things can also seem so expensive -- there aren't crappily made cheap alternatives to choose from.
5 They Always Make Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For”
Whole Foods has made the list of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” every year since the magazine started the list, which was about two decades ago. The company keeps an "open policy" about salaries so there aren't any secrets. In 2013, the average yearly salary was $40,000 which is a lot higher than you might expect. The co-founder and CEO John Mackey even capped his own income because he felt like a million a year was plenty. He doesn't even own stock.
4 They Have Fun Employee Incentives
At least at the Westport Connecticut store they do. Every month at that location, two team members are named the “King and Queen of Customer Service.” In addition to getting to rock that awesome regal title, they do their own version of Supermarket Sweep called "shop till you drop" where they have two minutes to grab as many of the stores original products as they can. And they get to keep it. Most of them end up leaving with two to three entire baskets of stuff. Aren't you super jealous now?
3 They Have A "Local Produce Loan Program"
The company has a Local Produce Loan Program, which means that they offer low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. Here's the official def: "In addition to featuring local products in our stores, we’re putting our money where our mouths are by providing up to $25 million in low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. We’re proud to support small producers who need a hand, not a handout, to help them make their dreams reality." Anyone can apply.
2 The Company Supports Farmers
Sure you'll be able to find the same brand of kombucha at every Whole Foods there is, but when it comes to fresher products you might see some variation. Why? The stores always buys food locally, which supports the farmers, ranchers, producer, and growers in every region. That's quite a personal approach for such a big chain, and it's an important one for sustainability.
1 They Have Offset Their Electricity Bill
In 2006, Whole Foods made the largest wind energy credit purchase in North America. They bought so many renewable energy credits from wind farms that it offset all of the electricity used in their U.S. and Canada stores. In a Massachusetts location, the commissary kitchen gets all of its electricity from recycled vegetable oil. Talk about efficient. So in addition to offering up healthy foods, Whole Foods is also doing their part to be good for the environment. No wonder they can rationalize charging so much for their products.