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AUSTIN, Tex. -- Whole Foods c.e.o. John Mackey is apparently putting his company's money where its marketing mouth has been for some time. In a letter to author and sometime Whole Foods critic Michael Pollan, Mackey last week outlined a series of new initiatives the chain will take that includes major investments in building up a network of animal-compassionate small-scale farms, purchasing more food locally, setting up a loan program for small farmers, opening parking lots up to local farmers markets, and fostering consumer education about local food options.
In the letter to Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Mackey said Whole Foods' new or upcoming initiatives include:
-- Hiring its first "animal compassionate" field buyer, who will exclusively develop sources "that meet our new strict animal compassionate standards"
-- Changing the duties of regional buyers to include a stronger focus on local products
-- Setting up a budget of $10 million a year to promote local agriculture, through a long-term loan program "to help support local agricultural entrepreneurs"
-- Closing off major sections of the parking lots of a number of standalone stores to host Sunday farmers markets
-- Charging regional and store marketing teams with the responsibility of "communicating and educating our customers about locally produced products. Some of our marketers are already doing this, but company-wide we are not doing nearly enough to tell the stories of our local producers," Mackey wrote.