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Whole Foods CEO floats plan to enter healthcare, eyes clinics

John Mackey also suggests weight loss and nutrition camps for employees and customers, marketed as a weekend retreats.

Whole Foods Market photo by ChadPerez49 via Wikimedia CommonsWhole Foods Market photo by ChadPerez49 via Wikimedia Commons

Whole Foods, the company that brought health food mainstream, now wants to sink its teeth into healthcare, according to a recent interview with founder and co-CEO John Mackey.

Mackey is considering opening health clinics at stores that would be available to employees and the general public, Bloomberg Business reported.

The news follows the recent boom in retail clinics driven by companies like CVS, Walmart and Walgreens, chains like Concentra (owned by insurer Humana) and U.S. HealthWorks (owned by California hospital system Dignity Health), and health systems in local markets. In some big suburbs and metropolitan areas, retail clinics are already pulling away patients in primary care, chronic condition management and non-emergent urgent care from dominant providers.

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Mackey is a progressive libertarian and vegan who argues for merging environmental sustainability with consumer-focused business in a book called Conscious Capitalism, and he is working on number of ideas to enter the healthcare economy with a focus on the American diet — something traditional healthcare providers have not really been able to improve.

“Americans are sick of being sick,” Mackey told Bloomberg Business. “They don’t know what to do, and there’s so much misinformation, which is why we started Whole Foods in the first place.”

One idea Mackey has is a “weight loss and nutrition camp for employees and customers,” marketed as a weekend retreat and based on a weeklong clinic already available to employees, according to Bloomberg Business. Workers and customers would be able to have supervised testing, group discussions with nutritionists and cooking classes. The company is reportedly staking out property to locate the retreat space  in Austin, Texas, near its headquarters. If “it works here, there’s no reason we can’t do it in every major city in the U.S.,” he said.

Another, more ambitious idea is a Whole Foods health clinic, where employees and customers could walk in and consult practitioners about minor health ailments or chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

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“Healthcare is so broken in America,” Mackey told Bloomberg. “If we allow markets to work, if we allow entrepreneurs to get in here and do things like I’m talking about doing, we will pretty much solve the healthcare problem in a generation.”

Whole Foods strategy would be to attract the kind of consumers who are deeply health conscious but skeptical of mainstream medicine’s heavy use of pharmaceutical products for lifestyle-related diseases that can be prevented or treated with exercise and eating changes.

But Whole Foods has its own financial ailments that could get in the way. The company’s 400 stores have seen mediocre sales as traditional grocery stores start offering organic and minimally processed products, even as its “Whole Paycheck” nickname continues.

Twitter: @AnthonyBrino