The Top Eco-Brands

Retail: Whole Foods

Grocery Chain Encourages Patrons to Shell Out for Sustainable Eating

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Margaret Wittenberg wrote the book on Whole Foods. Several, in fact.

Whole Foods, with its commitment to organic products and sustainability, is no simple supermarket where shoppers fill their carts and run. Ms. Wittenberg, VP-global communications and quality standards, has written several books designed to guide shoppers through the Whole Foods shopping experience.
Whole Foods cowboy
Leading the way
  • Sustainability and appetite meet -- at a higher price point
  • Gobbles up competition in growth niche
Her most recent work, "New Good Food: Shopper's Pocket Guide to Organic, Sustainable and Seasonal Whole Foods," is a revision of a 1995 book.

Ms. Wittenberg, who declined to be interviewed, is a former member of the Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board. She's been with Whole Foods since 1981. Her focus on quality, food safety, policy issues, and food and nutrition education as well as her work in creating national organic standards earned Ms. Wittenberg the Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Award in 2005.

Whole Foods has led the movement to simpler, more sustainable eating -- with a much higher price tag. But despite the commonly used derogatory moniker "Whole Paycheck," the chain has managed to capture the hearts and stomachs of the elusive and finicky Generations X and Y.

"The food industry makes its money by trying to convince us that basic food is not good enough," Ms. Wittenberg said in an interview with the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman earlier this year. "You cannot patent good, basic foods."

Whole Foods is a $6.6 billion chain, expected to grow up to 30% in fiscal 2008. The company scored a major coup last year, acquiring chief rival Wild Oats for $565 million after allegedly pricing the smaller company out of the organic-food business. Whole Foods continues to encourage responsible behavior among its shoppers, urging them to consider the environmental impact of plastic water bottles and spearheading the movement toward reusable shopping bags, even inspiring change at its lower-price rivals.

The company has built supermarkets certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in Austin, Texas, and Sarasota, Fla., and makes a point of purchasing renewable energy. The chain's popularity has also made organic produce and brands such as Amy's de rigueur at traditional grocery stores. Whole Foods has also given a boost to green brands such as Method, Seventh Generation and Odwalla.
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