Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey Discusses Healthy Eating, New Stores in Harlem and Detroit, Wellness Clubs

Written by Max Goldberg on May 29, 2012. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

I was at the Tribeca Whole Foods in New York City this morning to hear a presentation by John Mackey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the company.

The crux of what John Mackey discussed was healthy eating and how the overarching philosophy of Whole Foods is to improve people’s health by emphasizing a plant-based diet.

He also talked about some other very interesting initiatives, including opening stores in inner cities and a status update on the Wellness Clubs.

HEALTHY EATING

As John Mackey correctly pointed out, he does not believe that the government, medical institutions or the food industry will work towards healthy eating reforms. As such, this has become part of the mission and purpose of Whole Foods.

Americans suffer from diseases of affluence – obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. John Mackey said that 40% of us will die from heart or circulatory disease, and that 35-60% of the cancer cases are diet related.

The statistics of what is going on with kids is even more troubling. There are 10 million children who are obese, and 70% of 12 year-olds show signs of heart disease.

What to do about?

Well, Whole Foods believes that getting away from the standard American diet (SAD), which includes excess amounts of animal protein, sugar, cheese, oils (including olive oil) and processed foods, is essential.

Through initiatives such as Health Starts Here, the Wellness Clubs, and the promotion of the documentary Forks Over Knives, the company is advocating a diet that breaks down into four pillars:

1) Fresh, whole and natural foods

2) Plant strong – This means a diet very, very heavy on plant-based foods – more than 90%. In terms of animal protein, John Mackey said two things.

One, 95% of his customers eat some type of animal product – whether that be meat, milk, cheese, etc.

Two, The China Study showed that problems occurred when animal products accounted for more than 10% of a person’s diet. Even though John Mackey is a vegan, he didn’t seem to have a real issue with people consuming a very small amount of animal protein in their diet.

3) Healthy fats – Almost all whole foods have them, and nuts, seeds, and avocados should be eaten in small quantities.

4) Nutrient-dense food – The company launched an Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) which assigns scores to whole foods based on nutrients per calorie. Look for ANDI scores in the produce section.

MY TAKE

Our government spends billions of dollars per year subsidizing genetically-modified food (which happens to pose very serious health risks), so that our people can eat plenty of cheap, unhealthy, super-processed, and fast food.

The result?

Big Ag, health care and pharmaceutical companies enjoy tremendous profits while our population gets dangerously sick.

John Mackey used the word “genocide”, and I could not agree with him more. We are literally eating ourselves to death.

Not only is the government doing nothing meaningful to prevent it, the leaders in Washington are enacting policies that exacerbate the problem.

What the data clearly shows is that the majority of illnesses are preventable through an improved diet, and Whole Foods has decided to take it upon itself to teach people how to eat healthier.

This is one of the reasons that I admire and respect Whole Foods so much. The company sees a vitally serious problem in our society and is taking real action to address it.

OTHER WHOLE FOODS INFO

Here was some other information that I learned at the presentation this morning.

– John Mackey let it slip that Whole Foods will soon be opening up a location in Harlem. This is fantastic news, and something that I did not know before today.

No details were given as to where or when, since it appeared that this announcement was never supposed to have been made.

- I spoke with Co-CEO Walter Robb (below – and a GREAT guy) about the new Detroit store that will open in April 2013.

With 320 stores in three countries, this is the first time that Whole Foods will open up in a distressed inner-city location.

The company had been in talks with Detroit for two years, and Walter Robb believes that Whole Foods is “one part of the solution” to help bring healthy and fresh food to people who do not have easy access to it now.

In April, Walter Robb gave a speech at the Detroit Economic Club to express his company’s commitment to the area and to reassure city leaders that Whole Foods will be bringing will be “bringing its ‘A’ game”.

The new 21,000 square foot location will employ 75 people and will offer the community extensive support, in terms of cooking and healthy eating classes.

As a result of this announcement, other mayors across the country (Rahm Emanuel from Chicago, Cory Booker from Newark, NJ and officials from New Orleans – LA; Portland – OR and Austin -TX) have reached out to Whole Foods, hoping to entice them to come to their cities as well.

Taking Whole Foods to inner cities and getting fresh, healthy food to everyone is all part of the company’s mission.

– John Mackey gave us a status update on how the Wellness Clubs are doing so far.

People seem to love the discounts on the products and the weekly dinners but getting customers to come to the classes remains a challenge.

So, Whole Foods will be launching a virtual Wellness Club in 2013, which will allow the company to decrease its membership price and give people all over the world access to classes via computer or a wireless device.

It appears, however, that the five locations which are currently piloting the Wellness Club program will remain intact.

With my friends at the presentation – Elizabeth Stein (on the right), Founder of Purely Elizabeth, and Heather Terry (on the left), Co-Founder of NibMor.

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7 Comments

  1. Hello Max!

    Thank you for the post and support. I am excited about Detroit, a future location in Harlem and the other cities mentioned.
    I want to share with you an article about a group of healthy 5-8 grade school children who call themselves the Re-Thinkers and how they worked patiently and diligently
    to transform and change the school lunch at several cafeterias in New Orleans. It is one of the episodes in the HBO documentary Weight of Nation that resonated with me. Very inspiring and worthy of a future post. I will share additional information regarding this soon.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johanna-gilligan/the-great-cafeteria-takeover_b_1501391.html

    All the best,
    stephanie

    Written by stephanie haughey on May 30, 2012 @ 12:17 pm
  2. Hi Max,

    Re-Thinkers website
    http://therethinkers.com/

    Written by stephanie haughey on May 30, 2012 @ 12:21 pm
  3. Hi Max,

    Marion Nestle commentary on Weight of The Nation:
    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2012/05/pondering-the-weight-of-the-nation/

    Written by stephanie haughey on May 30, 2012 @ 12:22 pm
  4. HI Max,

    Where is Purely Elizabeth’s granola sold? I cannot seem
    to find it on the West Coast and or Nor Cal.
    Have you tried it?
    How about the chocolate from NibMor?

    Thank you,
    stephanie

    Written by stephanie haughey on May 30, 2012 @ 12:28 pm
  5. Hi Stephanie,

    They are both excellent products. Elizabeth said she is in over 1,000 stores. In terms of WFM, I believe she is in the Rocky Mountain region to the east.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 31, 2012 @ 11:11 am
  6. Thanks for the link to Marion’s story.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 31, 2012 @ 11:12 am
  7. Hi Stephanie,

    Much appreciated for the HuffPo link. Looks very inspiring!!!

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on May 31, 2012 @ 11:13 am

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