5/10/17

Whole Foods Tries To Avoid Selling Itself By Replacing Most Of Its Board

A month after shareholders told Whole Foods to shape up and see if someone was interested in buying the chain — Amazon and Kroger, apparently, for a while — the health foods store hasn’t put up the “for sale” sign yet. Instead, the company says it will completely revamp its board. 

Whole Foods announced today that it would undergo a board “refreshment” by appointing five new independent directors and new board leadership.

That means that more than half of the supermarket chain’s board of directors is being replaced, including the Chair and other leadership positions.

Whole Foods says the “robust refreshment process” is meant to help ensure that the board “has the best mix of skills and experience necessary to support Whole Foods Market’s leadership team in accelerating shareholder value creation.”

The change comes a month after activist investor Jana Partners and other companies bought a 9% stake in Whole Foods. Following the purchase, the company immediately began pressuring the chain to bring in fresh board members to turn around the retailer’s faltering sales.

With today’s changes, Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey says the chain is now well positioned to enter the next phase of its evolution.

“We believe that we have the right plan – and the right team – to execute on our initiatives at an aggressive pace, deliver results and enhance value for our shareholders,” Mackey said in a statement.

Though Jana Partners may be the impetus for these changes, the firm tells the Wall Street Journal that it turned down the chance to claim two board seats for itself.

Instead, the investor will “watch carefully” to see how Whole Foods’ board works to maximize shareholder value.

Whole Foods outlined those plans today, including an accelerated affinity program that combines the best elements of the company’s My 365 Rewards and pilot programs.

The chain says these programs have successfully driven increased trips and bigger orders from customers.

The company says it also plans to realize $300 million in additional cost savings by 2020. This, it says, will be achieved by standardizing in-store processes and optimizing its supply chain.

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