New CEO Jason Buechel's Personal Connection To Whole Foods

On September 1, Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey retired from the grocery store chain he helped create in 1980. According to The Washington Post, the merger between Mackey's SaferWay and Clarksville Natural Grocery laid the foundation for Whole Foods Market to become the largest natural foods supermarket chain with more than 500 locations in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.

During Mackey's tenure, Whole Foods was recognized yearly as one of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For," earning a spot in 1998 when the list debuted and through 2017. Employee benefits once included gainsharing and health insurance for part-time team members. For consumers, the introduction of the 365 by Whole Foods Market brand in 1997 offered affordably priced organic and non-GMO products. But when Jana Partners became a dominant shareholder in the company in 2017, the hedge fund forced Mackey to sell. Amazon bought Whole Foods later that year for $13.7 billion.

"All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children," Mackey wrote in a letter to team members announcing his retirement and the promotion of chief operating officer Jason Buechel as the new CEO. Mackey called Buechel "a true servant leader and champion of Whole Foods' culture and values," but he also has something in common with many Whole Foods employees.

A love of food led CEO Jason Buechel to a career at Whole Foods Market

Jason Buechel joined Whole Foods Market in 2013; his most recent position was chief operating officer, where he led Team Member Services and worked with supply chain and distribution. But Buechel is like many employees who shopped at Whole Foods before landing a job there — he first started shopping at the grocery store more than 25 years ago.

"Food has always been a big part of my life," Buechel told team members on his first day as CEO. He spent his childhood in Wisconsin, where his father was a cheesemaker, his grandparents owned a dairy farm, and vegetables served at meals came from the family garden. A self-professed foodie, Buechel enjoys "trying unique foods and seeking out new restaurants." He also knows John Mackey left some big shoes to fill. "They're impossible shoes to step into," Buechel said at the Global Food Forum in June. "John is a legend. He helped create the natural and organic industry, not only in this country but in this world."

The new Whole Foods CEO wants to build a "store-centric culture" by reconnecting team members to the company's core values and refocusing the company on providing a "purpose to nourish people and the planet." Last summer, Buechel visited stores across the United States to meet team members, but won't divulge information about Whole Foods' future plans until early 2023.