What is the secret to Whole Foods Market's success?

What is the secret to Whole Foods Market's success?

Whole Foods Market is arguably one of the most innovative companies in the health and wellness arena, and the natural retail juggernaut continues to impress the market with its sales performance and growth while other large grocers struggle and face uncertain futures.

The reasons why Whole Foods remains at the top of the food retailing game are many and well documented, but an Aug. 9 Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview with the company’s co-CEO, Walter Robb, underscored for me how the retailer was able to bounce back with a vengeance during the recession and why the future will continue to be bright for Whole Foods.

What’s the secret to Whole Foods’ success?

The retailer stands for something—and does so in more than just its PR and marketing. “This company is a mission-based company,” Robb told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “This company started to change the world by bringing healthier food to the world. It’s not about the money, it’s about the impact, and this company is back on track as a result of those experiences.”

Whole Foods’ mission can be tracked in just about everything the company does—from its high product standards to the creation of its Wellness Clubs to its efforts to educate consumers on the nutrient density of specific foods.

Sure, even Whole Foods sells products in its stores that are far from healthy, even if they are natural or organic (I’m talking about you, whoopie pies). The retailer, like most other grocers, also carries genetically modified food that is not labeled as such and uses a few ingredients such as canola oil in its prepared foods that some would rather see left out.

Whole Foods itself acknowledges that it could always be doing more to achieve its mission and that’s why the company decided to open a store in downtown Detroit next year.

“Where we’ve kind of stopped, I think, in our mission to bring healthier natural foods to the marketplace is with underserved communities that don’t have access to fresh food or have access to it in different ways,” Robb said. “When you look at the demographics and psychographics, it’s a groundbreaker for Whole Foods in terms of this particular location. It’s an effort to stretch ourselves in service of our mission, which is to bring healthier foods to the world in a broader, newer direction. It’s generated a lot of interest from mayors around the country.”

The end result, Robb added, is that Whole Foods is proving that a company can do well—even very well—by doing good. “The money comes because you are on a mission,” Robb says. “You are doing what you are here to do, and the money comes as a result of the way that you do it.”

Companies of all shapes and sizes look to Whole Foods for inspiration and ideas for how to be successful in the natural products space and beyond. The mission-based approach to making money is one page I wish all companies would take from the Whole Foods playbook.

How do you demonstrate your commitment to your company's mission? Share in the comments.

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