February saw the departure of two key grocery executives for natural products retailer Whole Foods Market.
A major change is the exit of Errol Schweizer, the company’s Executive Global Grocery Coordinator — basically the top job when it comes to determining the brands the chain carries. Schweizer joined the company in 2002 and progressed through the ranks of the company moving from a store level management position to regional and then onto global.
During his tenure at Whole Foods, Schweizer helped launch thousands of innovative natural products and his vision for the category positioned the retailer as forward-thinking and trend setting. In particular, Schweizer is often credited for helping the retailer be at the forefront of grocery trends including HPP beverages, new superfoods (chia, hemp), non-GMO transparency, and animal welfare standards.
“Errol was a strong voice for mission driven food production,” notes natural products consultant Tim Sperry, a former Director of Grocery for Whole Foods himself. “Many of us started out in this industry several decades ago, believing that changes in food production and consumption could have a major positive impact on people’s lives; Errol reminded us that it is still possible, even in this era of mainstreaming organic and healthy food.”
Schweizer has won numerous awards from his peers and the retailer. In 2015 he was named one of the Top 25 Retail Leaders and Game Changers by Supermarket News and he was the recipient of a Whole Foods Market Global All-Star award in 2008 and 2014.
Schweizer was unavailable to comment on his departure. Emails to his Whole Foods account stated that his departure was “effective immediately.”
Also moving on from Whole Foods Market in February was Kara Rubin, Senior Regional Grocery Director for the Northeast Region. Rubin had been with the retailer for nearly 10 years and also was a Whole Foods Market Global All-Star winner.
These exits follow the October 2015 departure of Dwight Richmond, Whole Food’s Global Grocery Buyer.
Dow Jones recently reported that Whole Foods is centralizing purchasing in an attempt to reduce loss and streamline the process, including using more computer analysis of store data for demand and ordering purposes. The retailer had previously announced that to assist with these efforts, it was implementing new computer programs for labor scheduling and is moving all regions over to one inventory-management system.
While the effects of these measures are yet to be seen, some Whole Foods employees have complained about a loss of autonomy and fear that the end result may be a loss of the unique selection of products that the retailer has become known for.
At the company’s 2015 Q4 Earnings call, executives were asked by an analyst how they would maintain the creativity, experience and localization that they were known for, while centralizing purchasing efforts. “We want to evolve the structure in such a way that we take out redundancy and waste, and at the same time though, we’re not diminishing the culture, the empowerment efforts that make Whole Foods Market special,” noted co-CEO John Mackey. “And that just means we have to proceed very thoughtfully, very carefully, and we have to be very inclusive in making the decisions so the voices are heard.”