Whole Foods' John Mackey in USA Today on Health Care, the FTC, Unions, & More


Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey, a Reason reader who has also supported Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, talks with USA Today in an interesting interview. Snippets:

Q: It seems like every grocery store has found a way to look or act like Whole Foods. How can you stand out now?

A: We're very pleased that we've had an impact on healthy eating in the U.S. Since we're a mission-driven company, that's fulfilling our mission. But that also means we can't sit still. Competition forces you to get better….

Q: You came out against the Obama health care reform, a stance counter to that of many of your best customers. Under a pseudonym, you posted disparaging comments online about former rival Wild Oats, which you now own. Who is the real John Mackey?

A: I did not come out against "Obamacare." I came out with alternatives to that. And I see the whole Internet phenomenon as much ado about nothing. I'm proud of my postings. I did 1,400 posts over eight years. If you go to the Yahoo bulletin board, everyone uses a screen name. That's the fun of it. But I regret doing it because it caused negative publicity for Whole Foods. I was investigated by the FTC, which dropped the investigation.

Q: What's the result of the Wild Oats merger?

A: The end result is that it's been great. Our Wild Oats same-store sales were up like 16% in the second quarter.

Q: Would you do that merger again?

A: No. We'll never do another merger that requires FTC approval. It was the worst experience of Whole Foods' corporate life. All my e-mails were examined by the FTC. The $30 million in legal fees. … For what? To prove we weren't a monopoly? Everyone knows we're not….

Q: You've been seen as anti-union. Why?

A: I'm not an anti-union guy. … In the private sector, I think unions are an important player. I don't believe unions should be legal in the public sector. Unions compete for the hearts and minds of your employees.Whole Foods can't stop anyone from joining a union. Our team members don't form unions because they don't want to. We wish unions would respect the rights of people not to join.

Whole thing well worth reading (including news that an "animal welfare rating program" will debut in January and inform customers "exactly how meat animals were raised").

Read Mackey debate Milton Friedman and Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers on "Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business" in Reason (one of our most-popular features ever).

Matt Welch and I interviewed Mackey for Reason.tv last year. Read the full transcript here or click below to watch a condensed version. Full Reason.tv interview here.

Bonus vid: Natural Food Fight – Whole Foods & Health Care.