Five years after Amazon (AMZN) announced that it would buy supermarket chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, a big new change has just taken place — on September 1, incoming chief executive Jason Buechel is taking over for John Mackey.
“As a co-founder of Whole Foods, I’ve often explained my relationship to the company with a parent-child metaphor,” Mackey wrote in a letter announcing his retirement to the Whole Foods Staff in September 2021. “[…] All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children.”
The transition took nearly a year and, now, former Chief Operating Officer Jason Buechel is stepping in to lead the high-end supermarket chain. That means managing more than 500 Whole Foods locations across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom as well as leading the company forward under Amazon’s vision.
Whole Foods And Amazon: A Short History
Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is, to date, the retail giant’s biggest acquisition — even its 2021 purchase of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.7 billion does not come close to the $13.7 billion sum.
Naturally, Jeff Bezos’ brainchild had plenty in mind for the organic supermarket chain that started out of Austin in 1980. At the time of the acquisition, many expressed fear that what started out as a neighborhood chain priding itself on working with local farmers and food producers would change into another corporate giant.
After taking over, Amazon opened 60 new locations that work exclusively online, automated some of the stores for customers to pay through Amazon One and centralized suppliers to move through the headquarters in Austin.
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Same-day Whole Foods delivery became available through Prime Now while some Whole Foods locations started selling Echo speakers, Kindles, and other Amazon products.
Between 2017 and 2021, Mackey was reported to have numerous clashes with Amazon executives. Audio obtained by Business Insider in 2018 documented Mackey saying that he is “not afraid to get fired” even while appreciating the rapid growth that began in that period of the chain’s history.
What’s In Store With Buechel?
Many of the clashes between Amazon and Mackey were extremely characteristic of what comes after a massive corporate takeover. Amazon’s culture is allegedly fast-paced and cut-throat (remember the scandal of workers reporting urinating in bottles to not be docked for low productivity?), while Whole Foods worked hard to portray itself as an egalitarian “corporate community.”
“When you have the kind of culture clash that I imagined John Mackey and Amazon had, it’s really impressive that John stayed around in a leadership position as long as he did,” Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at advertising firm Publicis, told CNBC.
But Mackey is also not exactly far left and anti-corporation either. New Yorker writer Nick Paumgarten once described him as a “right-wing hippie.” He also previously compared Obamacare to fascism and recently went on a podcast to say that “the socialists are taking over.”
Buechel, meanwhile, has been with Whole Foods since 2013 and has navigated the massive changes in grocery shopping that came as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and the skyrocketing demand for online food orders in particular.
While he appears to be onboard with Amazon’s tech-forward vision, Buechel also recently told attendees of The Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum that his primary goal for Whole Foods is to “reconnect to many parts of our heritage as a company.”