Whole Foods will sell you organic potato chips but its CEO recommends against eating them

No one needs this stuff.
No one needs this stuff.
Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is a devoted adherent of healthy eating principles similar to those articulated in journalist Michael Pollan’s famous mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

If only it were that simple for everyone.

Speaking Wednesday (May 3) at the Fortune Brainstorm health conference in San Diego, Mackey attributed the Western obesity epidemic to a “tremendous amount of misinformation” about what constitutes a healthy diet.

“Organic potato chips aren’t healthy,” Mackey said. “You’re better off eating a non-organic, regular potato than a highly processed food.”

When moderator Beth Kowitt, a writer at Fortune, pointed out that potato chips and other organic junk is in ample supply at Whole Foods stores, Mackey’s response was: hey, business.

“You have to meet the market where you find it,” Mackey said. He recounted the story of Safer Way, the natural food store he founded in 1978, before Whole Foods. It sold no products containing caffeine, alcohol, refined grains, or sugar. And it bombed. The lesson?

“You can have the highest ideals in the world … but you have to sell what people want to buy,” he said. “People in business understand that.”