Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey was livid. They’re “greedy bastards,” Mackey spouted to Texas Monthly in April after the investment management firm Jana Partners, Whole Foods’ second-biggest shareholder, signaled its intention to sell off his company. “These people, they just want to sell Whole Foods Market and make hundreds of millions of dollars, and they have to know that I’m going to resist that.” Whole Foods is “my baby,” Mackey declared. “I’m going to protect my kid, and they’ve got to knock Daddy out if they want to take it over.”
Yet just two months later, Mackey is selling his baby to Amazon for $13.7 billion, a dramatic denouement for a company that is deeply rooted in the hippie counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. Since its founding, Whole Foods has made its name bucking corporate conventional wisdom—even as it has come to epitomize the massive, often mercenary contradictions of Big Organic. The company sold organic foods long before any major supermarket chain thought it was worthwhile, and it’s thrived in part by defying the grocery industry’s insistence on centralized distribution and standardization.
Now the organic supermarket pioneer will be owned by one of the most brutally efficient and standardized retailers in the world, a company with a relentless focus on selling things cheaper and faster.
The purchase is a dramatic leap for Amazon into brick-and-mortar commerce. So far, the company has only launched a handful of grocery pick-up locations and storefronts for selling books. But the acquisition of Whole Foods vastly expands Amazon’s share of the grocery trade, a move that should raise deep concerns about a marketplace already dominated by a handful of massive retailers. (Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate; when you click on…