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Breaking Into Retail: Q&A With Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechel

Jason Buechel, CEO of Whole Foods

As CEO of Whole Foods Market, Jason Buechel is a champion of the retailer’s culture and values. He will present the keynote presentation “Savoring the Future: A Fireside Chat with Whole Foods Market CEO Jason Buechel” on Monday, June 24 at 11 a.m. on the Main Stage at the Javits Center.

Attendees will see Buechel’s "Whole Foods Bag," filled with discoveries from the Show, witness his cheese board creation skills, and see if he can guess the right spices in a blind tasting challenge. Buechel will also offer insights into the evolving landscape of the health-conscious market and how Whole Foods Market adapts to change. 

SFA News Daily recently spoke to Buechel.

Whole Foods has been a springboard for so many emerging brands. What advice would you give an early-stage food maker who is looking to break into retail and get on Whole Foods’ shelves? 

One of the most important parts as an early-stage food maker is to look at your differentiation and understand where there is an opening in the market and a customer need. Some of the best new products that we bring into Whole Foods are innovations where there is nothing like it in the marketplace. 

I would recommend suppliers think through questions like: What is your proposition to customers? What makes your product stand out? Some exciting examples I’ve seen are products sourced using regenerative agriculture, unique offerings for special diets, and products that remove or add specific ingredients.  In our bakery department there has been some great new offerings like gluten-free bread and cookies where you can’t taste the difference.  The same thing can be said for some of the new vegan and plant-based products.  One of the areas I continue to get excited by are products featuring the latest food trends in flavor profiles and ways the suppliers build that into their offerings. 

Specialty food retailers, in particular, have an opportunity to do social and environmental good by helping foster brands with similar missions. How does Whole Foods’ Sourced for Good program tie into that? 

What I love about Sourced For Good (SFG) is that we can identify products that are good for the planet, good for workers, and good for the community where we are growing products.  Oftentimes suppliers are aligned on shared values and we can utilize this program to help tell that story.  Sourced For Good allows these suppliers to get credit for all that work they are already doing.

One of my hopes is that we continue to expand SFG more broadly. We just brought it into our grocery department for the first time with coffee.  Sourced For Good is an easy way for customers to identify products that really go the extra mile in being good for the environment, workers, and communities.  I was able to experience these suppliers firsthand in Costa Rica and you can feel their shared passion to our higher purpose and core values at Whole Foods. There is an authentic connection in wanting to be able to do good.  Sourced For Good helps us to communicate to customers that these suppliers are committed to do this work. 

What is Whole Foods’ definition of regenerative agriculture and how does it educate shoppers about products that have been regeneratively grown? 

At Whole Foods, we define regenerative agriculture as holistic farming and grazing management practices that improve soil, enhance biodiversity, and increase carbon capture—just one example of a climate-smart strategy that helps heal and improve our environment.  

Whole Foods Market has a long legacy of supporting organic and other climate-smart farming systems. Aligned with our purpose to nourish people and the planet, we believe regenerative agriculture presents another incredible opportunity to not only sustain but also improve agriculture.  We’re proud to have more than 350 products from over 70 suppliers approved to make regenerative agriculture claims on our store shelves. We also recently brought the first Regenerative Certified private-label products to market, including organic dried mango and organic lentils, and offer organic wines produced with regenerative practices. 

What food trends do you see on the horizon? 

In 2024, we see new food and beverage trends going back to basics in the plant-based category, caffeine with added benefits, complex heat from global peppers, and water conservation and stewardship. Stay tuned this fall for the 2025 trends report.