Whole Foods Market powers-that-be have long had their hearts in the right place regarding food quality and the environment, helping shoppers find healthier food and grocery choices all under one wood-paneled roof…but clearly they would grow weary of the nickname their chain has: “Whole Paycheck.” Sure, prices are head-and-shoulders, overall, above the average grocery store, but it’s not just because there are artisanal cheeses and cut-your-own soap bars. Many of the products they sell, with the intention or at least bold claim of being healthy options, are from smaller companies with higher price points. That means you gasp a little when the friendly and seemingly pretty-darn-happy-to-work-there team member rings up your total.
Well, now there is a new initiative from Whole Foods. They are launching a new market aimed at millennials, called 365. Getting their prices competitive with Trader Joe’s and Kroger on a still-healthy collection of in-store groceries needed to happen. Since they made organic and healthy so cool for shoppers, (Wal-Mart offers an impressive array of organic products now!) the other stores caught on and offer a large overlap of the exact same products…so the unique business proposition of Whole Foods had grown far less unique.
So, with this agile pivot in their business model, I, of course wonder what their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs are like, particularly in relation to volunteering and social good causes…
The Whole Planet Foundation is the philanthropic and pro-social arm of the company, a 501(c)3 focused on alleviating world poverty and hunger. The foundation provides microfinance loan programs with community lending partners in 68 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. Additionally, they support programs for training and support for the self-employed poor. Because the parent company is so stable, WPF is able to put 100% of donated dollars toward their impact mission–few charitable organizations can claim the same. The entirety of their overhead is covered by Whole Foods Markets.
OK, cool…so what can I (and you, too) do to support their mission? There isn’t yet a volunteer opportunity for shoppers and unaffiliated supporters, but employees, always called “Team Members,” have opportunities to travel and meet the microcredit clients funded by the organization and contribute effort to community service. Thus far, since their 2007 inception, 612 Team Members have volunteered in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States. The videos about some of the trips (watch 2013 Volunteer Program in Kenya video below) place heavy weight on cultural immersion and visits with a service component (which will undoubtedly piss off the recently jaded bloggers who want to slam volunteering) but there is big progress on community projects as well (and not in the bad, taking jobs away from locals way). I’m certain it has a big impact on the visited communities, the entrepreneurs that are supported by micro lending, and the volunteers who come home as activists and advocates, spreading awareness.