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Whole Foods Market CEO Shares Regenerative Message at Milken Institute Conference

According to Jason Buechel, the grocery industry stands on the cusp of a new era and must collectively commit to climate-smart agriculture
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Whole Foods at Milken
Whole Foods' CEO Jason Buechel spoke at the Milken Institute Global Conference on the evolving food retail landscape.

During the Milken Institute Global Conference 2024, Whole Foods Market CEO Jason Buechel spoke as part of a panel discussion to share insights on the future of food retail.

The Milken Institute Global Conference, held May 5-8 in Los Angeles, is a premier gathering of global leaders from business, finance, government and philanthropy. This year’s conference focused on the critical issues facing the world today, including climate change, economic growth and technological innovation.

Buechel addressed the issue of climate change during “The Future of Food Retail” panel. “We feel responsibility as a company to take a look at how we can find ways to protect our environment and support our food systems for future generations,” he said. “Whole Foods started with climate-friendly agriculture; organics have been a part of the company from the beginning. We are pushing other levers like regenerative and continue to lead the number of items that we are carrying in this space and bringing the first exclusive brand of products in this area as well.”

This isn't the first time that Buechel has fostered discussions on the evolving food retail landscape. He was also a star speaker at Progressive Grocer’s Grocery Impact event last November, where he stressed that the grocery industry is standing on the cusp of a new era and must collectively commit to climate-smart agriculture.

“If we continue farming in the large-scale, mechanized way that much of the industry currently does, our topsoil is not going to have the nutrient density it needs to grow the foods we know and love today,” he said during his Grocery Impact presentation.

To tackle this challenge, Whole Foods is working with farmers, ranchers, suppliers, scientists and other experts, as well as leading organizations, to leverage regenerative agriculture to evolve the practices used to grow, raise and produce the items that it sells. Buechel said last November that indoor-farming options will become more key to achieve greater redundancy in the supply chain. 

“We’re going to need more alternatives,” he asserted during Progressive Grocer’s annual event. “We’re going to continue to grow most of our things in soil, but we are going to have to look at things like different indoor vertical-farming options. Some of that’s going to give us redundancy that we need when there are challenges that come into play.

“I believe that we as an industry can be a force for good in the changing way the world thinks about food at Whole Foods Market,” he added for the audience of aspiring and established grocery leaders. “We're inviting all of you to help be part of a ripple-effect change that will fix challenges within our broken food systems.”

Meanwhile, at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Buechel also highlighted his company’s growth plans, which include having 30 stores a year in the pipeline, including new formats like Daily Shop, a small-format concept.  

According to Whole Foods, the 7,000- to 14,000-square-foot format is designed to provide customers in urban neighborhoods a quick, convenient shopping experience with easier access to the fresh, elevated offerings that they expect from the grocer. The Daily Shop format will initially launch on the Upper East Side in Manhattan this year, with additional locations in New York City to follow.  

In a recent interview with Progressive Grocer, EVP Christina Minardi mentioned that Whole Foods indeed has already signed 35 leases this year: 30 leases for Whole Foods Markets and five for Daily Shops. 

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods has more than 530 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 2023 list of top food and consumables retailers in North America. Both Whole Foods and Amazon were named among PG’s Retailers of the Century. PG also named Whole Foods Markets as one of its 2024 Top 10 Sustainable Grocers

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