When Amazon’s upcoming $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market was announced earlier this year, commentators speculated that the online retailer saved the upscale grocery store from a future of falling revenue.
Speaking at an industry conference earlier this month, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said the purchase did save Whole Foods—from its own reputation.
“One reason the merger came about is Whole Foods was in a trap, and I couldn’t quite figure how to get out of that trap,” Mackey said, according to the industry news site Food Business News. “The trap was ‘Whole Paycheck.’”
Mackey was referring to the company’s nickname and reputation as high-priced purveyor of groceries for the wealthy. In an increasingly challenged market, being seen as the grocery store of the elite was bad for business. As a shopper at a rival chain told NPR in 2015: “When I think Whole Foods, I think I’m going spend a lot of money, so I don’t go there.”
Amazon began lowering prices at the store almost immediately after US regulators approved the sale. Mackey has now aligned the company with the Jeff Bezos-run behemoth known for undercutting brick-and-mortar retail.
“Amazon has a different narrative,” Mackey said at a snack-food industry conference in Colorado Springs. “Now we’ve embraced its narrative and so ‘Whole Paycheck’ disappeared. We escaped the trap. I feel a little bit like Houdini.”