Word of Mouth

Top 5 ways Whole Foods' new chairman can make the company whole

Whole Foods CEO and chairman John Mackey stirred the pot in an August Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing President Barack Obama's health-care plan."The problem with socialism," he insisted, "is that eventually you run out of other people's money." It was a bold -- and some would say really stupid -- move that had the potential of offending the majority of Mackey's customer base, the same crunchy neo-hippie crowd that skyrocketed the Whole Foods chain to success.

On Christmas Eve, Mackey announced that he would be resigning his chairman position; he will remain chief executive and a member of the board. Mackey's resignation of the chairman title comes after years of petitioning by CtW Investments, an activist group that urged the separation of the CEO and chairman roles; the same group also called for Mackey to step down after his op-ed was published.

Mackey's reign has been filled with both gaffes and good will. In 2008, he declared that his yearly salary would drop to just one dollar, and he developed a $100,000 emergency relief fund for employees facing extreme personal burden; he also banned plastic bags at all Whole Foods locations. On a darker note, Mackey was busted in 2007 for using an anagram of his wife's name to post comments on the Yahoo! Finance chat forum in which he talked smack about the Wild Oats chain (even as his own company was in talks to purchase the franchise) and complimented himself in the third person.

Whole Foods lead director John Elstrott is assuming the chairmanship. And while he takes that post, here are five more changes he should make at Whole Foods:

1. Stop shipping produce from half-way around the planet. During a recent visit to Whole Foods, I noticed a display of unidentifiable, red and green round masses in the produce section. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the mystery produce was heirloom tomatoes. IN DECEMBER. You shouldn't be able to find heirloom tomatoes anywhere near this part of the world right now -- and I would appreciate an explanation of how, exactly, a company that no longer uses plastic bags because of environmental concerns can legitimize flying cargo jets full of avocados up from Argentina.

2. Enough with the inflation, already. It's called "Whole Paycheck" for a reason. Sure, ten years ago when organic produce was a difficult commodity to find in your average grocery store, you could somewhat justify the magic of a Whole Foods binge. But even Wal-Mart has organic produce now, the sparkles have faded, and the bottom line is outrageous. Stop ripping us off, please.

3. No more political shenanigans. Mackey's editorial was offensive, and his Yahoo! fiasco embarrassing. A billion-dollar conglomerate has no business making political statements such as Mackey's -- unless it wants customers to boycott.

4. Please stay open later. There is a large population of people who are in bed every night by ten. But there are also many people who aren't -- some of whom work late, some of whom are just night owls, and all of whom need to shop late, particularly when they forget that they were supposed to bake cupcakes for the baby shower the next morning and need vanilla beans at 11 p.m. You don't have to stay open around the clock, but midnight would be lovely.

5. Ease up on the anti-union stance. In what may be the most awesomely graphic quote on record regarding unions, Mackey once declared: "The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover." While preaching the need for corporations to take care of their workers, Whole Foods severely reprimanded employees who tried to organize a union in Wisconsin, and some were terminated completely. Isn't this why unions were....never mind, you get the point.

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Kate Kennedy
Contact: Kate Kennedy