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Whole Foods Market CEO Maps Out Commitments, Changes

Jason Buechel shares update on grocer’s 10-year goals during Axios' What’s Next Summit
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Cheese Whole Foods
Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechel is using feedback from his conversation tour in 2022 to steer the company through it's 10-year vision.

Last year, as he was preparing to take the reins of Whole Foods Market, Jason Buechel embarked on a “Whole Conversations Tour,” talking with team members, suppliers, customers and community partners who helped shape the company’s 10-year vision. This week, Buechel sat down for a conversation with Dan Primack, business editor at the news website Axios.

As a featured guest on the Axios What's Next Summit on March 29, Buechel shared how Whole Foods’ long-term vision of “Growing with Purpose” is guiding the retailer as it navigates a shifting marketplace, emerging technologies and changes within the internal organization.

More than six months after he took over as CEO from co-founder and CEO John Mackey, Buechel underscored the importance of maintaining what makes Whole Foods Market work as a retailer, employer and supplier partner. “The culture of our company is so important. It creates a place where people love to work and a place that customers love to come and shop. To me, keeping the culture of our core values and higher purpose in place was paramount,” he said.

Another aspect of the business that is not changing is Whole Foods’ high standard for quality. Indeed, Buechel pointed out, it’s those standards that set the retailer apart. “For us, it’s making sure we continue to elevate that. One of the things we are defined by is what we don’t sell, from food products to body care products. We like to do our homework for customers so they don’t have to,” he explained.

Although he refused to comment on a question about the impending merger between The Kroger Co. and Albertsons Cos., Buechel reiterated the point that Whole Foods emphasizes quality standards and customer needs. “For us, it’s not about what our competitors are doing, but ‘How do we continue to serve our customers and grow from there?’”

That applies to the relationship between Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh stores, both of which are under the Amazon umbrella. “I look at it like we are siblings – friendly siblings,” Buechel said. “Ultimately, we get to share the same things and help support growth on both sides. Our goal is to make sure that we continue to serve both customer bases, and I look at it as we are focused on different parts of the grocery spectrum.”

Whole Foods’ purpose is fueling some shifts in its practices, however. According to Buechel, the retailer has set a new goal of reducing its food waste by 50% by 2030. “As we look at our entire supply chain, there are so many opportunities there,” he said, noting that the company is identifying better ways to divert food waste and to either use or donate excess food.

Whole Foods is also focusing efforts on supporting regenerative agriculture. “Regenerative agriculture is important to us at Whole Foods – we want to able to serve our customers for decades to come,” Buechel pointed out.

As for technology, the CEO foresees a future a decade down the line in which grocery technologies like frictionless Just Walk Out checkout and Amazon Dash Carts co-exist with the tried-and-true service provided by people, including store team members and foragers who scour local farmers market and other community sites for new products. “I see a hybrid that takes place. I want to be sure we provide all the options that customers are looking for,” he declared.

The first certified-organic national grocer, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods has more than 500 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Seattle-based Amazon, which is No. 2 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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