Secrets of Whole Foods, Revealed by an Ex-Manager

Whole Foods manager
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Working at Whole Foods is tough, and not just because employees are on their feet in a bustling store all day. That'd be tough enough without having to talk to customers concerned about whether the carrots in the produce section were grown less than 10 miles from the store. Otherwise, why bother?

Turns out, there's a whole lot of crazy at Whole Foods… and when we spoke to a guy who worked as a manager at a few California Whole Foods from 2005-2012, he let slip a lot of interesting tidbits about life behind the apron. We kept him anonymous because... well, you'll see.

The sandwich bar is a clearing house for about-to-expire food

"Some perishable food would go to places like the sandwich bar, so they could get rid of stuff that was fresh for another day or two -- like produce they couldn't sell. I thought that was genius! I don't know if they do that anymore, but they did that when I started at the company."

The customer base is... eccentric

"I was so used to crazy people coming in that it became the norm. I had conversations with customers about chemtrails at a freaking grocery store. I had people go off on religious rants about Jews to me -- and I'm Jewish, by the way. I had a guy basically admit to me that he had relations with underage people in Thailand. That's how crazy people are in there. People talk and run their mouths a lot and get too comfortable.

"A manager I know had a customer come up to him when he was stocking the shelves. All they said to him was, 'Hemorrhoids.' He knew they wanted to be pointed to the hemorrhoid cream. But all they said was, 'Hemorrhoids.' I don't think employees at a CVS would experience something like that."

Employees get discounts based on their body-fat index

"My discount was 20%, and if I signed up to get metrics done -- biometrics, body fat, blood testing -- it could've been as high as 30%." [Editor's Note: Whole Foods incentivizes employees to be in great shape by offering higher discounts for the healthiest employees.]

That "Whole Paycheck" nickname is pretty accurate

"I was in professional purchasing and purchasing management in the 'ripoff aisle': Whole Body. That section had a lot of fun stuff you may or may not need. But a select group of people found it beneficial."

Employees are treated like experts on everything

"At any other grocery store, you wouldn't have in-depth conversations with customers because you don't have the same training to speak knowledgeably about the store's products. People had those conversations with me because they looked at me as a true expert. You have that credibility because you work for Whole Foods."

Not all of the stuff Whole Foods sells is top-notch

"There was a brand of supplements -- which I won't name -- that was $70-$80 for about 80 pills. And if you look at the percentage of nutrients in these multivitamins, the daily value was, like, 1% calcium. I'm not exaggerating. And the company's argument would've been that the vitamins were food-based so they would absorb better in the body. All of the vitamins have claims that can't be substantiated by science, and you're required to sell things that way -- you're not allowed to say that a vitamin would work."

People buy a lot of stuff they don't need

"There are products on the shelves that people don't really need. Not only don't they need it to live, it's probably not benefiting them. And Whole Foods makes a lot of margin on shit like that. I think [products like that] gave Whole Foods the reputation it ended up having -- there's a lot you can buy there outside your daily groceries that rack up your bill a lot. But go to the produce section and stack it up against any produce section outside of a farmers market. What you're getting there is top-quality. You can see it visually."

The employees are sometimes high (on berry juice)

"When acai berry juice first hit the States, Zola's original acai blend with pulp was incredible. I'd down two to three of them a day, and all of my co-workers would too. We'd be completely high on this stuff because it contained guarana powder, and none of us knew what it was. It was like cocaine. [Editor's Note: Guarana "does not contain cocaine, and may have serious side effects for some people," according to] We'd pound these things. The company got really big because of overenthusiastic people like me, and then they got rid of the pulp. Later, the quality of the acai went down. But it was incredible when it first came out."

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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist, and still loves Whole Foods after writing this story. Follow him to lunch plans @LeeBreslouer.