Op-Ed: The grocery chain wars prove that the modern supermarket model isn’t sustainable.
I’m an editor, so no, I don’t work at Whole Foods. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not intimately familiar with the company’s culture.
Last week, Whole Foods executives met with their board to answer some tough questions. But the company’s CEO, John Mackey, is not one to dodge a question, even if it is one that comes from him.
“Did I ever mention the word ‘unionized’ to you?” Mackey asked the board.
The board answered, “No.”
“Okay. And the reason I asked you is because we did tell our unionized associates that we will provide them with more of those benefits, which we believe are reasonable in the marketplace.” Whole Foods has received approval from its union for a contract that will give its more than 600,000 associates more healthcare benefits.
“We will do so on conditions that we believe are reasonable in the marketplace and we expect that you think are reasonable.” Mackey doesn’t like conditions attached to that. “I think that conditions, whether it’s a raise, whether it’s healthcare, is always going to be a negotiation.”
When the board asked why they needed to wait so long to change the company’s compensation structure, Mackey responded with a simple answer: “We have to make structural change.”
A simple answer, but a stark one. Whole Foods is the victim of its own success. According to one study by the research firm Gartner Group, U.S. supermarket sales declined by 9.7% from 2007 to 2016.
In fact, Whole Foods is actually the only supermarket that remains in the top 10 of the grocery chain rankings. It’s a company with a reputation for selling overpriced organic food, but has managed to avoid the same fate as many of its more traditional competitors.
Whole Foods continues to sell organic food, in part because the