When John Mackey co-founded Whole Foods Market four decades ago, self-checkout hadn’t been invented and the internet was in its infancy.
Fast-forward to March, when COVID-19 seized the U.S. and shoppers shifted to online grocery orders.
Nearly 38 million (29 percent) of U.S. households used grocery delivery and pickup services in August, up from 16 million for the same month in 2019, a 133 percent increase, according to Brick Meets Click, the Illinois-based strategic advisory firm that focuses on digital technology in the food market.
“When things return to normal, there will be a lot of people who don’t go back to shopping in-person,” Mackey told The Wall Street Journal.
To meet the crush of orders for online deliveries, the Texas-based supermarket chain, which has 500 stores in North America, transformed some of their city stores into warehouses for handling online orders.
The move paid off. In the second quarter, Amazon’s online grocery sales, which include those from Whole Foods, tripled from a year ago, the WSJ reported. Mackey sold the chain to Amazon in 2017 for $13.4 billion.
“People are purchasing differently, and that’s partly because they’re not eating at restaurants as much,” he told the newspaper. “All the animal proteins have increased tremendously, and our prepared foods are way down.”
Mackey has also noticed shoppers are using lists, and are getting what they need and exiting stores in a hurry. He said Whole Foods was early by insisting on masks, disinfecting shelves and grocery carts, and implementing daily temperature checks for staff.
"I doubt anybody is catching COVID at Whole Foods Market,” Mackey told the newspaper.
Still, Mackey said he opposes a national mask mandate because some places in the U.S. have not been locked down. “You’re going to force the whole country to abide by a mask mandate?” he asked. “That’s a bad idea. That should be done on a local basis, or not at all. We’ve done tremendous damage to our economy, shutting it down like we did.”