John Mackey, the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, is the graying heartthrob of mindful groceries. Over the past 37 years he’s helped popularize the notion that Americans should devote more thought—and money—to their food. He took what had been a college town’s alternative grocery, with bins of grains and lentils, wilting veggies, and biodegradable soaps, and built a high-margin supermarket chain with almost 400 stores in 43 states and $14.2 billion in annual revenue. On the strength of its share price, Whole Foods briefly became the second-most valuable food retailer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart Stores, in the fall of 2013. But Whole Foods, unaffectionately known as Whole Paycheck, had a lousy 2014. Same-store sales growth fell from 8 percent to 4 percent, and its share price tumbled 10 percent. Meanwhile, competition is squeezing Whole Foods like an organic lemon over a bowl of quinoa.
Photographer: Ryan Lowry for Bloomberg Businessweek