Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has some unkind words for investors who have been pushing the upscale supermarket to put itself up for sale, calling them “greedy bastards” in a recent interview.
Facing increased competition from traditional supermarkets and newer, smaller grocery chains, Whole Foods recently replaced most of its board of directors in an attempt to stave off efforts to force a sale of the company. But that hasn’t stopped some investors from continuing to push Whole Foods to hang up a “for sale” sign on the door.
Activist investor group Jana Partners, which owns 9% of the company has been the source of this tension. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly, Mackey didn’t hold back.
“Yes, we need to evolve. We need to get better, and we’re doing that,” he said, adding that pressure from investors to sell the company isn’t helping the company move forward.
Jana Partners’ motivation for a sale, Mackey believes, isn’t to make the company better, but to make a profit for itself.
“They’re greedy bastards, and they’re putting a bunch of propaganda out there, trying to destroy my reputation and the reputation of Whole Foods, because it’s in their self-interest to do so,” he told Texas Monthly.
The fight between Whole Food and Jana began in April when the investor revealed its 9% stake in the grocer, becoming the second largest investor in the chain.
Jana revealed its big plans to refresh the chain, like bringing in new board members and exploring a sale.
In May, Whole Foods followed up those ideas by replacing five new independent directors and new board leadership.
The company said at the time that the “robust refreshment process” was 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.”
At the time of the board changes, Mackey said the company now had the “right plan — and the right team — to execute on our initiatives at an aggressive pace, deliver results and enhance value for our shareholders.”
Despite taking some of Jana’s suggestions and refreshing its board, Mackey tells Texas Monthly he won’t allow a sale without a long, drawn-out fight.
“That’s my baby. I’m going to protect my kid, and they’ve got to knock Daddy out if they want to take it over,” Mackey said, adding that Jana just wants to see the company to make hundreds of millions of dollars.
To that end, Whole Foods has outlined plans to maximize shareholder value, 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.