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Good interview in Saveur with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, in which he addresses some of the current and future trends having an impact on the conduct of business:

Local Foods: “Over the past five years, we've more than doubled our percentage of sales coming from local foods,” Mackey says. “Expanding our selection of locally grown produce has been relatively easy. The biggest challenge has been finding local animal farmers and ranchers to work with, but our meat cases are slowly starting to showcase more local and region-based options. We've recruited hundreds of regional producers over the past couple of years to produce grass-fed beef, pastured chickens, and pastured pork. And we've loaned about 2.5 million dollars to nearly 50 local producers to help them grow their businesses … Many times, the producers come to us, but we've also created new positions in the company called ‘Local Food Foragers’. These folks search for small, local producers by visiting farmers' markets, local food shows, and competitors' stores.”

The Next Big Trend: “I believe it will be animal welfare ratings [on meat sold in our stores]. We've been working with animal welfare organizations and animal scientists to develop our 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program, which we are beginning to roll out in some stores. Our hope is that this will eventually raise consumer awareness about how most livestock animals are treated and will lead to sustainable alternatives to the current, inhumane system.”

Mackey’s Goal # 1: “Focus on Healthy Eating Education. It isn't enough to sell healthful, nutritious food, because people are so confused about how to eat well and they don't know how to cook. We intend to teach them both. ”

Other Mackey Goals: “Place a greater emphasis on foods from developing countries that are ethically sourced for high quality, environmental sustainability, and fair labor practices. … Stock only those meat products that have the highest ratings according to our 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program … Pay serious attention to sustainable seafood. This is a serious problem around the world, and it's only getting worse. ”

And Yet Another Mackey Goal: “Open smaller stores. We're going to open mostly smaller stores in smaller communities.”

KC's View:
I have to say that one the things I liked most about the Mackey interview is that when asked about small companies that Whole Foods has helped grow, he responds, “Some companies that started small but are widely known today are Silk Soymilk (I prefer their unsweetened soy milk), Odwalla (I'm a huge fan of Mango Tango), Naked Juice (Mighty Mango is great), and Honest Tea (Black Forest Berry is my favorite).”

I love the idea that he is so specific and so passionate – and so verbal - about the products he likes. Sure, outspokenness has gotten him into trouble from time to time, but I also think it makes him an exceptional merchant.

And just as an aside, I’d watch out for those smaller stores.