17. John Mackey

CEO of Whole Foods

Oct 5, 2011
Outside Magazine
John Mackey

John Mackey    Photo: Joe Ciardiello

Decides What’s for dinner

The most incredible thing about John Mackey is that he’s still the head of Whole Foods. In the past few years, the Austin-based chain’s cofounder has been dinged by the SEC for creepy comments he made anonymously on a stock website and has aired anti-union views in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that caused his progressive customer base to retch. Meanwhile, “Whole Paycheck” suffered so much during the recession, Mackey had to sell large chunks of the store to outside investors. But it has roared back to profitability, with $9 billion in sales in 2010, meaning the 57-year-old vegan is still the dominant force in the natural-food movement. His decisions (and whims) determine which meats, fruits, and energy bars go on shoppers’ shelves. Case in point: in 2003, when an activist complained about the way the chain’s fresh duck was produced, Mackey researched factory farming and completely overhauled the line. This January, he instituted a policy of labeling GMO products—but also refused to ban goods from Monsanto. Which means you could be buying their stuff.

By the Numbers 2,400: products Whole Foods stocks;
19: companies Mackey has bought out

Second Opinion “Whole Foods has standards for what ingredients they allow, and that can have a huge impact on the market,” says John Gay, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association. “Some companies tailor their products just to get into Whole Foods.”

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