Amazon announced on Friday that it will acquire Whole Foods in a deal valued at more than $13 billion. So how did a chain that started as a single Texas health-food market create an appetite for such an acquisition?
Based on TIME’s past coverage of the chain, one reason for the store’s success was that it met Americans where they were, hitting the sweet spot right at the center of what feels healthy and what people actually like the eat. “It’s about whole foods, not holy foods,” as A.C. Gallo, vice president for East Coast operations, told TIME in Aug. 12, 2002. “We’re not going to preach that the only thing you can eat to be healthy is brown rice and vegetables.”
Here’s how TIME described store’s the rise in a Feb. 23, 1998, feature about the company:
Whole Foods even got the rest of the food industry running to cater to the higher-income buyers that the store attracted. “Organic produce is no longer the wilted stepsister of conventionally grown fare, and that’s largely because national chains such as Whole Foods are demanding — and getting — a better-looking produce,” as TIME noted in 2002.
And looks, in fact, were also a key part of why consumers keep coming back. “Not an item at Whole Foods escapes design,” TIME reported in 2006. “The produce department appears art directed. Vegetable displays are torn down and put back up nightly. Strawberries are stacked airily in their baskets to resemble Chinese lanterns, a technique pilfered from Asian fruit markets. Over in prepared foods, cut fruit and portobello-mushroom kebabs are designed by a woman who travels from store to store training team members to do the same.” The feature quoted Walter Robb, a co-president and co-COO of Whole Foods as saying, “Shopping is 60% impulse, so the more the food is presented in a beautiful and exciting way, that all becomes part of the experience.”
In fact, when the magazine remarked that the market’s housewares and bath products section seemed to be the emptiest part of the store, the article guessed that it was only a matter of time: “Whole Foods may simply be repeating an experience it has encountered many times in its 26-year existence: landing on an idea that is ahead of its time and then waiting around as the world catches up.”