Q&A With Whole Foods' CEO: Innovation Ahead As Chain Enters 'Prime'

Whole Foods "co-founder, cosmic thinker and conservative hippie" John Mackey tells Bruce Horovitz that he's most proud of having created a culture that doesn't depend on him. "Whole Foods is no longer my baby that I have to take care of and protect," he says in a far-reaching Q&A. "I get too much credit and too much blame for what Whole Foods is. We're a team."

Horovitz writes that the organic and natural foods trendsetter, now with 300 units in 38 states, has had a cultural impact along the lines of the 11,000-plus Starbucks outlets. And Mackey & Team isn't done yet. A new animal-welfare rating program will be in stores by Jan. 1. And it's opening Wellness Clubs in five prototype locations -- a "potentially a new paradigm for people being healthy." It's also introducing a vegan private-label line in 2011 based on the book The Engine 2 Diet.

Mackey says that, at age 30, the chain is in its prime. Addressing the nickname "Whole Paycheck," he claims that on similar products, Whole Foods is very competitive. "We have 30,000 items, and you can probably find 30 on which we're more expensive," he says, claiming to match Trader Joe's prices for private-label goods. "But you can't always be cheapest if you have the highest quality," he pleads.

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