Does Jeff Bezos Own Whole Foods?


When you ask Google who is Whole Foods’ CEO, you will find John Mackey as the answer, but then, you might also come across the fact that Amazon owns it. So does Jeff Bezos own Whole Foods?

Let’s clear out the confusion:

Yes. Jeff Bezos owns Whole Foods Market, as Bezos’ company Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017. Bezos purchased it for $13.7 billion. However, Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey remains CEO.

In this article, I’ll share interesting info about the acquisition and about Whole Foods.

I was a leader at the company (Whole Foods, not Amazon) for twenty years. So, you could say that I know a thing or two about it. And as part of Amazon’s purchase, the company ceased being traded on the stock market. So what happened to all those who held stock in the company?

Let’s cut to the chase.

Who is Whole Foods owned by?

Jeff Bezos owns Whole Foods Market. Amazon (owned by Jeff Bezos) acquired it in 2017 when the company was in dire financial straits.

Prior to the purchase, founder John Mackey was still the majority shareholder (ie: owner) along with numerous other individuals and investors as Whole Foods Market was still publically traded on the stock market.

It’s also worth noting that the former shareholders of Whole Foods Market didn’t just lose their stock.

At the start of 2017, Whole Foods stock was trading at $30.89/share. However, Bezos’ purchase price amounts to $42/share. And shareholders were automatically paid $42/share for however many shares they held, shortly after the merger was completed.

That amounts to a 36% increase over where the stock was trading on Jan 1st 2017.

Whole Foods is the largest natural and organic supermarket chain in the US. It’s present in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and its headquarters is in Austin, Texas.

The first Whole Foods store came into being in Austin, Texas, in September 1980.

It was a combination of two companies: SaferWay Health food store and Clarksville Natural grocery. One of its distinctive features was its size. In fact, it was more spacious than the usual health food store! So, it offers customers a wider selection of products.

John Mackey (who’s still the CEO of Whole Foods) and Renee Lawson Hardy owned SaferWay Health food stores. In the mid-80s, Whole Foods opened new stores in Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

In 1988, the year I started with the company, its first expansion outside the state of Texas occurred.

That was when it bought a New Orleans company, the Whole Foods company of New Orleans. By the next decade, it had become a national company. In a decade? Yes. How? It bought local and regional natural food chains.

Curious about the company’s rapid growth and popularity?

Check out a recent article of mine, where I shared some “insider” info. I worked at Whole Foods for twenty years. One of the facts I shared is that it uses a simple yet effective strategy that’s like Starbucks’. Really?

Just click the link to read it on my site.

When did Jeff Bezos buy Whole Foods?

Jeff Bezos purchase Whole Foods Market in August 2017 for 13.7 billion dollars.

Amazon had tried the grocery business previously with a brand called HomeGrocer. But the company wasn’t successful. It’s hard to say whether the e-commerce platform had been planning to go back to the sector when the opportunity to buy Whole Foods happened.

But Amazon must have realized how vital the industry could be because, let’s be frank, $13.7 billion is not an amount one would sneeze at!

It’s interesting to consider why Bezos bought Whole Foods.

After all, we’re talking about the richest man on earth. He must be wicked smart. The following is my opinion.

The grocery sector has had little innovation in decades. One could say that it was ripe for disruption. It’s a huge sector that’s worth $683 billion in gross revenues. It’s not surprising that a smart entrepreneur would want a piece of that pie, right?

Data also revealed a demographic overlap.

50% of those who frequently shop at Whole Foods were also Prime members. So, it’s an opportunity to deepen, add value to the relationships, and earn more from them. There are other reasons (IMO) why the deal was struck, but because of space constraints, we’ll check them out someday in the future.

Say someone would like to get a job at Whole Foods, what’s the deal?

I was a manager there for twenty years, so you get the real lowdown in a recent article of mine. And yes, it’s not always easy to get hired there, and it does really help to know someone who works there. But there is a way around that.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Does John Mackey still run Whole Foods?

Yes, John Mackey is still the CEO of Whole Foods Market and will be until September 2022, despite having sold the company to Amazon in 2017. So while he now works for Jeff Bezos, he still makes all the primary operating decisions regarding Whole Foods.

But, in fact, he’s not simply the CEO; he co-founded the company in 1980 (40 years ago).

However, he did recently announce his retirement, which will take place on September 1st, 2022. So he won’t continue to run Whole Foods Market after that date. Whole Foods Market’s current COO, Jason Buechel, will become the new CEO after Mackey retires. (source)

So he’s a pivotal figure in the company’s history and growth. Besides being an entrepreneur, he’s also a writer and libertarian. A college drop-out who has a passion for natural food, that’s what led him to borrow $45,000 from family and friends in 1980 to start a hippie-like natural food store, which eventually grew into the best corporate natural food store in its niche.

It’s a testament to his outstanding leadership that the company he co-founded and is leading has not deviated from its original mission and has dominated its niche for almost four decades, leading to an eventual sale worth $13.7 billion!

He’s known for the philosophy of conscious capitalism.

He co-founded the conscious capitalism movement and was recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.

Before co-founding WF, he moved into a vegetarian co-op, was its food buyer, and worked for a natural food store. When asked what he thinks of WF’s acquisition by Amazon, he likened it to his marriage of 31 years to his wife.

He said, “Do we love absolutely everything about Amazon? No. We probably love 98%.”

There’s no doubt that Whole Foods is an outstanding company. But why are its products expensive? They’re often 10% to 20% more expensive than the same items in other grocery stores. Why?

That’s exactly what I revealed in a recent article of mine, where I offered the inside scoop. But how much did prices drop when Amazon bought them?

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What companies does Jeff Bezos own?

Many people know that Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest person in the world and that he owns Amazon. What they probably don’t know is that he owns at least 15 other companies. I’ll share the list with you and also let you know one or two interesting facts about one or two of these companies.

The companies include:

  1. Zappos (apparel and footwear website)
  2. Elemental Technology (software company)
  3. Souq.com (e-commerce, known as “Amazon of the Middle East)
  4. Blue Origin (Rocket company)
  5. The Washington Post
  6. Whole Foods
  7. IMDb (Online Movie database)
  8. Kiva Systems (Robotics company)
  9. Alexa
  10. DP Review (Digital Photo Review)
  11. Fabric.com (Online Fabric Store)
  12. Woot.com (Daily deals site)
  13. Goodreads (book recommendations)
  14. Twitch (Live streaming site)
  15. Audible (Audiobooks)

Let’s check out Kiva Systems.

Kiva Systems is now rebranded as Amazon Robotics. It was acquired for $775 million in 2012. At that time, it was one of Amazon’s biggest acquisitions. The company’s niche is automated storage and retrieval systems. It’s a crucial part of Amazon’s delivery services, where thousands of robots are needed.

Even before Bezos bought Whole Foods, the sector was undergoing some changes.

How has online grocery shopping increased? This is what I explored in a recent article of mine. 2020 was a crazy year for everyone but online grocery ordering skyrocketed. But how much and will that die down in the coming years?

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Did Amazon ruin Whole Foods?

Amazon did not ruin Whole Foods Market as very little has changed as a result of the ownership change. However, Amazon did reduce prices across the board by an average of 20%. Additionally, had John Mackey not sold his company, they may have gone out of business.

A wave of fear ran through the grocery industry when Amazon bought Whole Foods. In fact, the shares of some top grocers plummeted. Costco dropped by 7.2%, Target 5.1%, and Walmart 4.7%.

Grocers knew that Amazon had revolutionized book sales, nay, publishing as a whole, leaving razor-thin margins in its wake. They were probably having nightmares, stumped by the thought of how one competes with a company that’s okay with not making profits for years!

Three years after its acquisition, is Whole Foods better off, or is it doomed?

To have an objective take, it’s good to think of acquisitions as being like marriages. There’s usually a period where both parties try to adjust to the new arrangement. So hasty or one-sided appraisals can only distort the truth. Time will tell.

It’s important to note that at the time WF was sold, it was struggling.

Profits had been declining and sales had stagnated. In short, if John Mackey didn’t do something drastic, the company that literally put natural and organic foods on the map may have gone out of business.

One of Amazon’s promises, when it acquired WF, was that it would make its products “affordable for everyone.”

So, price cuts are one of the new realities at WF. A study by Morgan Stanley showed that there has been about a 20% decline in the price premium Whole Foods used to enjoy over other supermarket chains.

Amazon Prime has also been integrated into WF. It’s also handling delivery under the Amazon Fresh brand (kicking Instacart to the curb in the process).

On the whole, what’s been the effect of the acquisition?

Growth or ruin? Sales and traffic to Whole Foods have increased. And, the study by Morgan Stanley showed that even with the reduction, prices are still competitive.

One of the initial complaints, after the sale to Amazon, relates to the team member’s welfare. There have been rumors of hours being cut, and pay levels stagnating.

But there were some new benefits given to Whole Foods employees too.

In a recent article, I shared vital info about WF’s team member’s benefits including whether or not they now get Amazon Prime for free.  Just click the link to read it on my site.

There’s no question of Amazon ruining Whole Foods.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people love Whole Foods. It’s their preferred choice for natural and organic products.

Why was it sold to Jeff Bezos? In the preceding paragraphs, I shared interesting info about companies owned by Jeff Bezos, how Whole Foods was founded, and why and when it was sold.

But we also looked at whether or not Amazon has “ruined” Whole Foods and what John Mackey’s role in the company is today .

It’s not uncommon to see a lot of articles talking about Whole Foods team members complaining about the new version of the company. But it’s important to remember that every time in the company’s history there has been a change, there has always been opposition.

If I had a dollar for every team member who complained that Whole Foods isn’t the same as it used to be, I’d be a wealthy man.

But I’ll bet those that stayed are grateful to have a well-paying job with great benefits. As if Amazon hadn’t bought them, chances are good they would all be out of a job now.


Photos that require attribution

Whole Foods by Tony and Jeff Bezos by Steve Jurvetson are licensed under CC2.0 and were combined, color-adjusted, cropped and had a text overlay added.

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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