Marketer, management scholar and journalist Dobrow chronicles how natural and organic foods were transformed from the pursuit of a few idealists to a thriving, multibillion-dollar industry.
The author examines the whole food movement from the postwar period, when alarm bells began ringing about the proliferation of chemicals and nuclear waste. He traces its “philosophical but impractical development by idealistic children of the sixties” to the 1980s and ’90s, when an ambitious group of opportunists laid the foundation for “its current state as a bubbling crucible of mission-driven entrepreneurial activity.” Calling it “one of the great ironic twists in modern history,” Dobrow chronicles how the vision of the early counterculture, which embraced environmentalism but rejected the capitalist get-rich-quick ethos, was transformed into the successful business plan of “some of the most successful capitalists of our time.” In the process, the author introduces a fascinating cast of characters less well known than the heroes of Silicon Valley but arguably equally influential in transforming the way we live and work. Including the CEOs who put Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farm and Trader Joe’s on the map, they have made a “larger contribution to the health and sustainability of the planet and the humans who ride on it than just about anyone else in the modern era.” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, one of the key players, typifies this group of mission-oriented business leaders. He has fostered a highly competitive leadership group with an eye to the bottom line while maintaining the quality of the produce on the shelves of an expanding empire of stores. Mergers, acquisitions, vertical organization with private labels and branding were all important. These days, conventional food manufacturers such as Quaker and Kraft are also marketing health foods, yet with “natural foods only represent[ing] 5 percent of total food sales,” there remains much to be done.
A lively, informative look at the transformative potential of a mission-driven niche industry.