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John Mackey tells the Whole story

Whole Foods Market John Mackey Whole Foods
NPR's How I Built This explores how Whole Foods Market built a movement.

How I Built This, NPR's podcast "about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built" just keeps featuring natural products industry companies. In fact, at least 10 of the 38 episodes so far are related to our industry. Is this media bias? Is host Guy Raz favoring a category? Or is it that listeners are interested in how food and food retailing have changed over recent decades in the hands of these dynamic entrepreneurs?

Regardless, it’s certainly true that they are really good stories—tales of renegades forging forward in a world of processed foods, changing the American palate and making a fortune along the way.

It started in October with episode four and the building of Clif Bar. Since then we’ve learned about Honest Tea, Beyond Meat and 5-Hour Energy. Along the way, Raz and Co. have taught us about similar eco or food renegade companies like Patagonia and Instacart, and even how Sam Adams and Dermalogica created industries, paving the way for craft beer and natural cosmetics.

The latest category creator was John Mackey. Like so many of the entrepreneurs on the podcast, the Whole Foods Market founder speaks of the way drive and luck (and in Mackey’s case, a youthful sense of nothing to lose) combined to build an idea the world was hungry for. Listen as Mackey and Raz discuss the early days of Safer Way Foods, the 100-year flood that almost killed the business in year one and the ever-evolving business that challenges the company to remain relevant in the very space it created—no exaggeration.

Raz describes the legacy of Mackey and Whole Foods as, "changing how supply chains worked and how people produced food and, I guess, created new markets for organic food."

"That’s certainly true," Mackey says with factual immodesty. "We did." He acknowledges that they didn’t do it singlehandedly, "but we created much of the demand for natural and organic in the United States," which in turn created more farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers wanting to produce organic foods. "So we had a huge impact. We still do."

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