Blog: Dean BestWhole Foods boss jeopardises health of his business

Dean Best | 20 August 2009

John Mackey, the colourful boss of US organic food retailer Whole Foods Market, is at it again.

Just days after he told the press his business sells "junk", Mackey has created more controversy with his views on the US healthcare system.

Even on this side of the pond, it is clear what a divisive issue healthcare has become in the US. And Mackey's op/ed piece to the Wall Street Journal - in which he opposed the idea of a universal healthcare system - has attracted a fierce response from Whole Foods' shoppers, with some refusing to visit the company's stores again.

In the wake of the WSJ posting his piece, Mackey responded on his company blog, insisting that the newspaper's treatment led to "antagonistic feelings by many" and published his full "unedited" contribution to the debate.

Mackey's blog has generated an overwhelming response (some numbers: the blog prompted almost 2,000 comments. The Whole Foods CEO's previous three blogs attracted 26, seven and 34 responses).

Predictably, Mackey has attracted fierce criticism and strong support for his views. "Vile, soulless garbage", "self-serving", "morally bankrupt" and "repugnant" said Mackey's detractors, while others called him a "true patriot" and urged him to run for office.

The Whole Foods boss insisted the views he gave to the WSJ were his own and did not represent the retailer, which, he said, has "no official position on the issue".

However, Mackey is naive if he thinks his business will not cop some flak. Mackey, as Whole Foods' co-founder, is synonymous with the retailer. What's more, his unedited op/ed spoke at length about how bad diet caused "many of our healthcare problems" - an indirect plug for the food on sale in his stores.

Forget the recent kerfuffle about whether organic food is healthier than standard fare. Mackey's comments on healthcare are likely to turn Whole Foods investors a sickly shade of green.


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