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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Whole Foods - a retail phenomenon
Whole Foods Kensington
Around 50% of produce in Whole Foods Kensington is organic
The first purpose-built branch of US firm Whole Foods has opened in London.

With the motto "Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet", it prides itself on a commitment to organic, unprocessed and healthy produce.

Whole Foods began in 1980 in Austin, Texas, with just 19 staff. It now employs more than 43,000.

College dropouts John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy launched their first store, SaferWay - a dig at big rival Safeway - on a 10,000 loan.

But it took a union with fellow green enthusiasts Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, who owned nearby Clarksville Natural Grocery, to give birth to Whole Foods.

After a promising start, the store was hit by a major setback in 1981 when a flood destroyed all of the stock, which was not insured.

However, within a month they were back up and running and after that the only way was up.

Booming profits

Whole Foods has grown by buying up smaller organic, health or natural food stores across the US - a strategy which has made it unpopular in some quarters.

David Lannon, North Atlantic president, said: "We have always considered ourselves alternative even as we have got bigger."

In 2002, Whole Foods expanded to Canada and in 2004 made its first foray into the UK by buying up seven Fresh and Wild stores in the capital.

In-store bakery at Whole Foods Kensington
Whole Foods prides itself on making fresh goods in store

Its stores in the US generate twice the profit per square foot of any other supermarket and about 20 new ones are opening every year.

In February, it swallowed its main rival, Wild Oats Markets, in a takeover worth half a billion dollars.

This added another 110 stores to its portfolio giving it nearly 300 across north America.

Last year, Whole Foods turned over $5.6bn.

Team players

Mr Mackey's distinctive management style - part hippy, part shrewd businessman - has been key to the firm's success.

It has also resulted in Whole Foods being voted fifth in Fortune magazine's list of the top 100 companies to work for.

In each store, workers are divided into eight teams in different department.

When new employees join they are assigned to a team and put on two months' probation.

We have always considered ourselves alternative even as we have got bigger
David Lannon
North Atlantic president

Only when they are approved by two thirds of their team members in a secret ballot can they stay on permanently.

Each individual's pay is linked to the performance of the team as a whole and that pay stacks up well in comparison to the rest of the retail sector in America.

Their starting wage is $10 an hour - compared with the US minimum of $7.25 - and they also get free health insurance and significant profit share.

Last year, Mr Mackey wrote a letter to all of his staff announcing that he would reduce his own salary to $1 a year, sell his stock portfolio to charity and set up a $100,000 emergency fund for staff facing personal problems.

He wrote: "I am now 53 years old and I have reached a place in my life where I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart."

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