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Whole Foods CEO Shares Secret Sauce

Jason Buechel

Whole Foods’ CEO attributed the chain’s success to its store associates during  “Savoring the Future: A Fireside Chat with Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechel” at the Summer Fancy Food Show, Monday. He was interviewed by Katie Stilo, culinary producer and food stylist for NBC's Today Show.

“Our team members are the secret sauce of Whole Foods Market,” Buechel said. “Our customers come to our stores for their expertise, their knowledge, and the experience they’re creating through merchandising.”

Among the products offered in-store are more than 350 that hold a regenerative certification from one of three programs.

“I got concerned that regenerative agriculture [claims] would become the next ‘natural’ if we didn’t put some rigor around it, so that’s why we require the certification on it,” he said.

These products span store departments from produce to meat to supplements, he said, adding that Whole Foods is one of the first retailers to introduce exclusive and private label products that are Regenerative Organic Certified such as dried mangoes, lentils, and wine.

When it comes to considering new suppliers, Buechel said that they must first meet the retailer’s quality standards. “The vetting process is something we do upfront,” he said. “We’re not interested in someone who is looking to retrofit a single item, but we want to have a dialogue with you about your roadmap for today and in the future. We’re seeking a win/win outcome for their business and enabling it to support Whole Foods.”

In some cases, Whole Foods supports its suppliers with loans to help them grow their business and meet future quality standard requirements such as those related to animal welfare.

Its LEAP (Local and Emerging Accelerator Program) program creates mentorship opportunities for selected participants with Whole Foods Market experts accompanied by months of educational programming.

“This has been a great win/win that we’ve found,” Buechel said.