Wednesday, June 12, 2013

veganalysis: Whole Foods Market

How about Whole Foods Market as a vegan investment?

There is a lot of overlap between people who shop at Whole Foods Market and the vegetarian and vegan crowd. Where else do you see the Engine 2 Diet and Beyond Meat marketed prominently?

Whole Foods definitely promotes a plant-based diet. Their grocery bags say to eat whole foods, plant-strong, healthy fats, and nutrient dense.

But they also sell meat.

I had the opportunity to see John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, speak at a public engagement in NYC last week. The talk was mostly about Conscious Capitalism, a recent book he co-wrote and one that may be of some interest to readers of this blog. But he also spoke a number of times about vegetarianism. Some of the things he said struck me as downright heroic and rather brave, in a room full of non-vegetarians. I'll have to paraphrase because I didn't record him or take notes.

He alluded a number of times to his own vegetarian diet and how important it is to him. Furthermore, he is clearly conscious of his own store selling meat, and how that clashes with his own values ("we sell a whole bunch of things I'd rather you didn't buy, you and the world would be better off if you didn't buy them"). But they sell it. His reasoning is that it's necessary to sell meat (and potato chips, and a host of other not-very-healthy foods) because the market demands it. The store must sell these things to compete, survive, and thrive, according to Mackey. Is it true? And is the world better off that Whole Foods exists? Are the animals better off that Whole Foods exists? These are questions you'll have to decide on for yourself if you're considering investing in Whole Foods.

As Mackey's interview continued he had another opportunity to describe his vegetarian vision. Setting the scene by alluding to the egregious amoralisms that were slavery and jim crow laws, he predicted that in 50 years, we'll look back on what we're doing to animals today as moral outrage and have zero tolerance for it. I couldn't agree more, but most of the room was filled with "paleo" folks who squirmed in their chairs.

Ultimately, non-violence (and I do believe that's what veganism is all about) has to be a choice. We have to win the hearts and minds of consumers until we have a critical mass that's enough to put the brakes on animal suffering. That's why I'm happy to be an investor in Whole Foods, and help in a small way to bring the message of a plant-strong diet and animal welfare to the rest of the world and country while earning competitive returns.

After all, they also sell a whole lot of good stuff.

Disclaimer: the author holds common stock shares in WFM as a long-term investment.