Health Care Uproar Swallows Whole Foods Whole Foods has taken pains to distance the corporation from founder and CEO John P. Mackey, but it may be too late. His article slamming Obama's health care plans has caused an uproar and led some to boycott the store.
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Health Care Uproar Swallows Whole Foods

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Health Care Uproar Swallows Whole Foods

Health Care Uproar Swallows Whole Foods

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Members of Congress are not the only ones facing public outcry over health care. Take the CEO of the grocery chain Whole Foods. Last week, he wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal slamming President Obama's health care plans and offering his own market-based ideas.

As NPR's John Burnett reports, that's causing an uproar among customers.

JOHN BURNETT: Whole Foods has taken pains to distance the corporation, with 265 stores in North America and the U.K., from its founder, 56-year-old John P. Mackey. But it's too late. The outspoken chief executive is so much the face of the popular natural food chain that when his column ran in the Journal last week with the headline, Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare, some of his customers freaked.

Mr. HUGH SPARKS: I'm Hugh Sparks. I live in Austin, Texas. I'm a retired bureaucrat. And I am a bass player.

BURNETT: So you're not going to shop at Whole Foods anymore?

Mr. SPARKS: No. As long as this person is in charge at Whole Foods, and he maintains his opposition to appropriate health care payment.

BURNETT: In Whole Foods' flagship store in central Austin, the gleaming aisles certainly don't appear emptier, as shoppers heft organic muskmelons, inspect hydroponic watercress, fondle luscious green mangos and make their way to the checkout counter.

Unidentified Man #1: All right, your total's $82.11. Did you need help out today?

BURNETT: At a table outside the store today, Chris and Dwayne Pulsifer - he's a retired airline pilot - slurped fruit smoothies and savored John Mackey's bold position on health care.

Ms. CHRIS PULSIFER: I think it's wonderful. I wish the whole country would oppose it.

Mr. DWAYNE PULSIFER: And I think that you find now, at least what we hear, on -maybe not on NPR…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PULSIFER: …on Fox News, you hear that the majority of people are against it. But you have Obama sitting there trying to achieve something that people don't want.

BURNETT: Mackey wrote: The last thing the country needs is a complete government takeover of the health care system, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in new deficits.

The CEO proposed, instead, that government free health insurance companies to be more competitive, enact tort reform to end malpractice lawsuits and revise tax laws to favor employer-provided insurance.

The Whole Foods chief executive is a prolific commentator. Earlier this decade, he posted messages on a Yahoo! chat forum under an alias in which he pumped up Whole Foods and trashed then-competitor Wild Oats. This time, it's Mackey who's the target on chat rooms throughout the Internet.

By midday today, the "Boycott Whole Foods" page on Facebook had more than 16,000 members. And there are more than 12,000 posts on Whole Foods' own discussion forum, from: Bravo, Mr. Mackey to Mackey is an abomination.

A Whole Foods spokesperson said they're concerned that customers have begun to boycott, and the opinions on health care are those of her boss, not the corporation. John Mackey was reportedly on vacation hiking and unavailable for comment.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

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