Saturday, January 24, 2009

Retail Memo: Despite its Battle With the FTC and Other Struggles, Whole Foods Market Still Ranked 22nd 'Best Place' to Work in America By Fortune

FTC. v. Whole Foods Market, Inc.

Despite its ongoing battle against the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) attempt to overturn its 2007 friendly acquisition of rival Wild Oats Market, Inc., it's 70% loss in company value over the last year and 40-plus% drop in quarterly income, along with its corporate headquarters firings (about 100 employees) in late 2008 and numerous other challenges, Whole Foods Market, Inc. still has managed to place 22nd on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Places to Work in America" annual ranking of American companies.

As a side note, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, which is Whole Foods' main outside legal firm (it's using three firms, all coordinated by lead council Lanny Davis of the Orrick firm) in its battle against the FTC's attempt to overturn the Wild Oats deal, was ranked as the 87th best place to work in America by Fortune this year. It's one of two law firm's in the ranking.

The issue of Fortune magazine that includes the "100 Best Places to Work" ranking doesn't hit retail until January 26. However it's now available online at the Fortune Web site here.

Whole Foods' dropped six places this year compared to last year, when it came in 16th in Fortune's top 100 "Best Places to Work" ranking. But it wasn't alone in doing so. For example, coffee and food retail cafe giant Starbucks came in 24th this year. Last year the Seattle, Washington-based company, which also is experiencing its share of struggles, came in near the top last year -- placing number seven.

Even the uber-popular Google, who's campus in Silicon Valley offers among other employee features an employee cafe that offers food grown no more than 150 miles from Google headquarters, and offers the mostly organic meals the cafe serves at low prices subsidized by the company, dropped slightly in the ranking this year. Last year Google was ranked number one by Fortune as the best company in America to work for and at. This year Google placed fourth.

Whole Foods Market has made the Fortune list for 12 years in a row and is one of only 13 companies to be named every year since the list’s inception.

Regarding Whole Foods ranking at number 22, the business publication noted that the slowing economy “has not curbed the enthusiasm of this young workforce (28 percent are under age 25).” Additionally, it listed Whole Foods Market as number one among the top 100 for job growth, for adding 8,570 new employees in the last year. Much of that job growth came from the acquisition of Wild Oats.

Fortune also noted that Whole Foods is just one out of a total of 15 companies on the "100 best list" that pay 100 percent of its employees health-care premiums.
In addition to Whole Foods Market, four other retail food and grocery companies were ranked in the top 100 by Fortune. Two, Wegmans and Nugget Market, placed in front of Whole Foods.

Wegmans Food Markets, the family-owned New York state-based supermarket chain, known for its across the board innovation and high-touch employee policies, placed fifth overall. The retailer has been on the Fortune list for 12 straight years in a row and ranked in the top ten for seven of those years.

Nugget Market, which is a smaller, family-owned supermarket chain based in Woodland, California (about 15 miles from Sacramento) was ranked as the 10th best company to work for in America this year by Fortune. The inclusion on the list in 2009 marks the fourth year Nugget has been ranked as one of the 100 best places to work in the U.S. by the business publication.

Both Wegmans and Nugget put a major focus on merchandising natural, organic and premium foods, as does Whole Foods Market.

Stew Leonard's, a family-owned, multi-store independent based on the east coast, was ranked as the 53rd best company to work for in Fortune's ranking this year, and Publix Super Markets, a major supermarket chain in the southern U.S. that's based in Florida, came in at number 88 this year.

Both Stew Leonards and Publix are major retailers of natural, organic and premium foods, as well as selling basic food and grocery items.

The Stew Leonard's stores are mega-sized supermarkets and feature lots of natural, organic and specialty foods alongside conventional items, including a huge assortment of organic fresh produce and fresh meats. Stew Leonards also is a pioneer in marketing and merchandising "locally-produced food products, including working directly with farmers and producers.

Publix, which is the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the U.S., is a pioneer among supermarket chains in the natural and organics segment. In fact last year it started opening a new format supermarket called "Greenwise," which looks in its physical design and merchandise selection more like a Whole Foods store than it does a conventional supermarket. Publix is the leading grocer in Florida in terms of market share.

Food/grocery/consumer packaged goods maker and marketer General Mills was the only non-retailing food industry company to make it into Fortune's 100 best ranking this year.

In addition to marketing many of the top selling conventional food and grocery brands like Gold Medal (flour), Bisquick, Pillsbury and Green Giant, General Mills also is a major player and marketer in the natural and organic foods sector. Two of its natural and organic category brands are Muir Glen (organic tomato products and others) and Cascadian Farm, for example. Both are major top selling brands in the natural-organic segment. General Mills also markets premium food brands like Yoplait yogurt and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. [Link to General Mills' brands list.]

Below are the top ten places to work in the U.S. as determined by this year's Fortune magazine ranking:

  • NetApp
  • Edward Jones
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • Google
  • Wegmans Food Markets
  • Cisco Systems
  • Genentech
  • Methodist Hospital System
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Nugget Markets

Click here to view the full "100 Best Places to Work in America" list from Fortune magazine. There's also additional data about the 100 companies at the link.

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