John Mackey has resigned from Whole Foods Market, which he co-founded in 1980, to pursue a new plant-based enterprise.
The entrepreneur spent more than 40 years building the brand and serving as its CEO. Last year, Mackey addressed all Whole Foods employees in an open letter that revealed his intention to resign on September 1, 2022.
He wrote that the 12-month notice period would allow him to “transition my role as CEO to the next generation of leadership.”
Mackey will now reportedly support a new venture, called Healthy America, which is anticipated to include new plant-based restaurants and wellness centers. Former Whole Foods executives, including Betsy Foster and previous co-CEO Walter Robb, have also joined the leadership team.
A (now-deleted) job posting described Healthy America as “an evidence-based lifestyle company, leading the convergence of culinary, healthcare, and wellness.” It added: “For the first time ever, we are bringing together all three under one roof, to meaningfully transform the health and wellbeing of individuals.”
So far, Healthy America has allegedly raised around $31 million from investors.
Mackey is on board to help build a nationwide network of wellness centers and cafés, serving plant-based foods. This begins with a southern California location.
A ‘higher purpose’
In his resignation letter to his Whole Foods colleagues, Mackey described the grocery chain as his calling.
“Many people can go their entire lives without ever discovering their higher purpose, but I was lucky enough to discover mine back in 1976 when I was living in a vegetarian co-op named Prana House in Austin – two years before we first opened Safer Way [which became Whole Foods],” he wrote.
Under his leadership, Whole Foods grew to more than 500 locations across the US, UK, and Canada. In 2017, it was acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion.
John Mackey and plant-based living
In 2020, Mackey revealed that he is “100 percent plant-based” in an interview for Joe Rogan’s podcast. He said that the move was an evolution of vegetarianism in his twenties, which morphed into a pescatarian diet. He became fully plant-based in 2003 for ethical reasons.
In the same interview, Mackey hailed the whole-foods plant-based diet as the only food system capable of reversing heart disease. His comment came a year after he decried plant-based meat products as being “highly processed” and “unhealthy.”
Amazon currently stocks thousands of vegan meat products, including its own range of Fresh Plant-Based. Whole Foods also stocks multiple brands, including Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Pat Brown, former CEO of Impossible, responded to Mackey’s criticism, telling CNBC Make It: “Our product is substantially better for the consumer than what it replaces.”
He continued: “What it replaces is a burger made from a cow, not a kale salad. So, if you’re saying this is not like the ultimate ‘superfood,’ you’re right. But it’s intended to be a product that is healthier for the consumer than a burger made from a cow [and] better for the planet than a burger made from a cow. And for many consumers, more delicious.”
Healthy America has acquired a restaurant in Miami, which is rumored to be opening under the Love Life! banner. It is not yet confirmed what will be on the menu.