At Whole Foods Market, Innovation and Nourishment Work Hand in Hand

According to Global Senior Team Leader Ben Andresen, Whole Foods Market is “a cathedral of grocery greatness and the pinnacle of what a grocery store can be” thanks to a purpose-driven mission.

Written by Tyler Holmes
Published on Nov. 11, 2022
At Whole Foods Market, Innovation and Nourishment Work Hand in Hand
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Food production and procurement has shaped human history.

Over 1,000 years ago, merchants traversed the Silk Road throughout China, the Middle East and Europe to distribute and indulge in the flavors of other cultural regions. Native Americans adapted their lives around the migratory patterns of buffalo and other livestock for thousands of years. Entire cultures have shifted their food-related identities around crops that were not native to their lands, like the introduction of tomatoes from Central America to Italy around the 15th century.

Today’s consumers are more connected than ever across oceans and continents, in part to the modern distribution of regional food production. Items sourced from dozens of countries can be found strolling down the aisle of grocery stores like Whole Foods Market. And because of the company’s relationship with Amazon, there are many ways customers can shop and pay for these items online or in-store.

In some Whole Foods Market locations, customers can use Amazon One, a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to enter, identify and pay. At two Whole Foods Market stores featuring Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, customers have the option to skip the register.

 

A common area in the Whole Foods office decorated with plants and large couches.
WHOLE FOODS MARKET

 

Whole Foods Market’s purpose is to “nourish people and the planet,” and innovation has played an important role in offering novel approaches for customers to access that nourishment efficiently. 

A lot goes into fulfilling the company’s purpose, including a team of passionate problem solvers who firmly believe in nourishing the people and communities they serve.

When Brent Stanley originally joined the Whole Foods Market team 18 years ago, it was by happenstance. He was moving back to Chicago from Colorado while the tech industry was on unstable ground, and he began working in a Whole Foods Market bakery as an interim job.

“We had just launched gluten-free products, and suddenly people with celiac disease were arriving in droves,” he recalled. “Some people were driving two to three hours to buy cases of frozen bread to bring home because nobody else sold it at the time — people were even crying because they hadn’t been able to eat bread in 10 years. Partly what started my journey within Whole Foods was that we were able to make a huge impact with those folks.”

Shortly thereafter, gluten-free bread began appearing at other grocery stores, marking a “tip-of-the-iceberg” moment that showcased the impact of being at the forefront for customers.

 

 

Almost two decades later, Stanley is still committed to delivering that same feeling he experienced, and finding new ways to accommodate different dietary needs — but in a new capacity. As senior project manager of retail infrastructure, he now looks for ways to improve the customer point-of-sale (POS) experience by combining Whole Foods Market’s purpose-driven promise with Amazon’s state-of-the-art technology.

 

INTRODUCING NEW WAYS TO SHOP AND PAY

  • As Whole Foods Market is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the customer experience, it recently introduced Amazon’s Just Walk Out Shopping in two stores and added Amazon One as an additional payment option in select stores across the country.
  • Whole Foods Market’s two Just Walk Out-enabled stores provide customers the choice to skip the register for a faster, more convenient shopping experience while offering the same high-quality products and exceptional service from Team Members as other Whole Foods Market stores.
  • Amazon One is a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to enter, identify and pay.

 

“We’re proud to have introduced Amazon One in dozens of stores,” Stanley said. “It was great to partner with the Amazon team to make sure the device works seamlessly in our stores.”

“My parents recently went to a Whole Foods store and sent pictures of the pin pad designs, where I proudly got to respond, ‘That’s my project!’” he added. “I don’t know how many other people can say they virtualized all the servers in a 500+ store retail environment. This is something that will live on within Whole Foods Market into the future, and continue to make a difference for everyone we serve.”

To learn more about how Whole Foods Market’s Team Members feel empowered by their work and stay connected to a shared purpose, Built In sat down with Stanley and two team leaders committed to making a difference for customers every single day.

 

“My parents recently went to a Whole Foods store and sent pictures of the pin pad designs, where I proudly got to respond, ‘That’s my project!’”

 

The Whole Foods office space.
WHOLE FOODS MARKET

 

What does Whole Foods Market’s mission mean to your unique role and perspective?

Global Senior Team Leader, Technology Team Ben Andresen: It’s part of why I’ve stayed at Whole Foods for 17 years. Whole Foods Market cares a lot, whether it’s animal welfare, environmental stewardship or customer and Team Member satisfaction. Whole Foods really has changed the grocery industry from start to finish, and from a personal perspective, a couple of people in my family have severe food allergies or food-related issues. Thinking back 10-15 years ago, it was very hard to shop for food that accommodated different dietary needs or preferences — and I think largely through Whole Foods’ efforts, there are a lot more opportunities for consumers to find everything they need.

Principal Product Manager Dami Oyedele: The work I do with merchandising technology helps us support the category merchants who make the decisions about what goes on our shelves. What tools can we use to help power their decision-making? How can we arm them with the right data and intuitive tools that enable them to put the right products in the right stores at the best prices? 

If my work is helping the folks who are making the shelf decisions do so more effectively, then that’s my contribution to nourishing people and the planet.

 

FORGING A SUCCESSFUL CULTURE OF CONNECTION

Even as Whole Foods Market grows, its dedication to its purpose, core values and unique culture remains. Through initiatives like its Culture Champions program, the company continues to build deeper connections between Team Members and its purpose-driven culture. “The program is a way for Whole Foods Market to create and keep our corporate culture going as we welcome new Team Members,” Brent Stanley said. “Many IT Team Members are newer to Whole Foods Market, so as someone who has been with Whole Foods Market for many years, it’s important to me that we keep our core values and traditions alive. The program has empowered me to help educate my team and others I collaborate with.”

 

Continuous product innovation is a large component of what you’re striving toward. How do you stay connected to the greater impact of your efforts?

Andresen: What keeps me connected is being close to the stores, our Team Members and the customers. It’s rare in tech to witness what I’m able to, seeing how the products we deliver make a real-time impact. Whether you’re on the infrastructure side of tech or a software developer, you could develop a product but oftentimes there’s five or six different layers between you and the end user so you don’t get to see its impact. The closer you can get to that end user experience, the more tied in you are with that and the more it prompts additional innovation.

Stanley: I spent the last three days in Seattle deploying a pilot, and I was able to talk to Team Members or customers to see their reactions to what we’re pushing out live. We’re empowered to speak up and say — because we know our customer base and our operations teams so well — if something is going to work.

Oyedele: We build tools and apps in partnership with software developers. Some teams are working on solutions that make it easier for store and office-based Team Members to perform their jobs, while others are working on solutions that improve the customer experience. When I walk into a Whole Foods store anywhere in the country and see great products at great prices, I know the work we do on the merchandising technology team plays a part in delighting the customer.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos courtesy of Whole Foods Market.

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