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Bloomberg has a long story about Whole Foods, noting that founder and co-CEO John Mackey "is in the awkward position of having to explain why Whole Foods can thrive in the very world he created. Which is why he’s eager to tour the fruit and vegetable aisles of his Austin store. Dangling over the displays are a series of SALE! placards in red letters. The company was once reluctant to compete with rivals purely on price, but here are signs proclaiming that organic broccoli is marked down to $1.48 a pound and two boxes of Driscoll blackberries are $3."

The story goes on: "A libertarian with a hippie streak, who rails against creeping nanny-statism (Obamacare, minimum-wage laws) and the soullessness of corporate America, Mackey is challenging some of his own cherished beliefs. He’s down with advertising now. For the first time in Whole Foods’ history, the chain is running national ads: It’s spending $15 million to $20 million on a campaign that features rugged-looking farmers and fishermen vowing that 'values matter.' And the company’s finally using one of the oldest tools in the supermarket toolbox, which Mackey resisted for years: a loyalty program.

"It’s too early to determine how these changes will play with consumers, but at least one constituency is enthusiastic: the competition." That's because the competition sees Whole Foods coming back to the pack, losing some of the differential advantages that would separate it from other chains (Sprouts, for example) with similar value propositions.

One of the interesting lessons that the story says that the company has learned is that when Mackey gives full voice to his politics - like during a recent book tour - the company's sales tend to go down. Co-CEO Walter Robb tells Bloomberg that "Mackey has been properly humbled: 'John has realized he needs to cork his own politics. He’s been spanked enough'."

You can read the entire story here.
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