The largest North American chain of health and natural food supermarkets, with 150 stores (and growing) across the United States and Canada. Whole Foods is regarded as a major force in mainstreaming the health food movement and making it the fastest growing sector of the food retail industry. They were the subject of a recent fawning profile in Time Magazine, which unfortunately means that the phenomenon is probably just about over.

The chain began as one store in Austin, Texas, in 1980. As is the case with many natural food stores, its founder, John Mackey, still the company president, believed in sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture and a new, healthier, largely vegetarian diet for consumers. What set Whole Foods apart was marketing savvy. The store appealed not just to die-hard natural food fanatics, but to yuppies and others who sought a more refined, distinctive image for themselves, but who weren't necessarily as environmentally-concerned or knowledgeable about foods. This wider appeal allowed Whole Foods to blossom into the nationwide, NASDAQ-traded corporation it is today. It is currently the fastest growing supermarket chain in America.

The current stores manage to satisfy the discerning natural foods customer, as well as attracting the less-discerning 'lifestyle' customer. Thus, alternative food products like soy protein powder and tahini can be found near organic beef. Despite the influx of these 'lifestyle' customers, Whole Foods is IMHO the most comprehensive and well stocked natural foods supermarket chain.

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