Growing up in Wisconsin, Jason Buechel spent more than a little time on his grandparents’ dairy farm—picking stones, bailing hay, butchering meat, and gaining deep insights into the work that brings food to the grocery store shelf and eventually the dinner table. When he entered the professional world, he started out in retail consulting before joining Whole Food as its Chief Information Officer in 2013. He rose to COO in 2019 and finally assumed the helm CEO in September 2022 when founder John Mackey stepped down

“What I loved about grocery is it's so much more complex than most other forms of retail,” he recalled at RetailSpaces Spring in Austin, Texas, where he graciously filled in on short notice for Christina Minardi, the grocery giant’s EVP of Development and Growth. “It's the thinnest margins; you’ve got a product that is highly perishable. It makes for a more complicated business to operate.”

Over the course of a wide-ranging conversation with Michael Owens, Executive Producer of RetailSpaces, Buechel dove into Whole Foods’ innovative new small-format store, its expansion and sustainability strategies, and where he likes to grab a bite to eat in Austin. 

Filling in the White Space

As it announced in March, Whole Foods will launch its new Whole Foods Market Daily Shop format later this year, starting on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The concept involves 7,000- to 14,000-square-foot “quick shop” stores that offer easy access to Whole Foods’ fresh, high-quality products, be they grab-and-go meals or essential ingredients. Buechel describes the format as a “fill-in location” intended to reach customers between their trips to a standard format store, which may not be so conveniently located. 


Whole Foods Market Daily Shop rendering

“We have a lot of white space in Manhattan and in a lot of our urban corridors,” he explained. “We looked at what size we could get our hands on and how we could help bridge that space. If you have to walk to one of our stores there and shop, it’s not necessarily easy if you’re on the go and you just have a few minutes. We really wanted to make it an easy, quick way to experience Whole Foods Market.”

Whole Foods aficionados may see parallels with the company’s Whole Foods 365 concept, which offered lower prices in smaller locations. Many of these locations were converted into full-format stores after the Amazon acquisition, Buechel explained, which allowed Whole Foods to slash prices and ramp up promotions across the board. Now, the Daily Shop format will take a similar approach in a much smaller store with a slimmer range of offerings.

“When we look at 365, we were still hovering at about a 30,000-square-foot store,” he said. “Where this will help serve customers is that while we have a more narrow assortment overall, everything that you need from an essentials perspective is still gonna be made available. We just may not have the number of sizes, shades, flavors, and facings that you might find in a full-fledged store. But for all intents and purposes, every major use case that a customer would have, we'd still be able to solve in this format.”


Growing with Purpose

The smaller format naturally makes for shorter store development times as well: 10-12 weeks as opposed to 10-12 months. “We'll have sort of a kit of parts,” as BKuechel put it. “Part of what drives the longer development times on most of our stores is the fact that a lot of them are part of a larger development and sort of a ground-up build. This is gonna be much easier—not a cookie-cutter experience, but the kit of parts is gonna allow us to be much quicker.”

While the initial rollout strategy for Daily Shop will focus on urban corridors where the company already has ample white space between its full-format locations, Buechel isn’t ruling out a broader expansion. “I think this has a major opportunity in suburbs and potentially secondary markets where maybe there isn't the opportunity to bring a traditional Whole Foods Market,” he said. “The deal economics of a smaller-size store make this a good investment in locations we hadn't considered.”

As Buechel stressed, Whole Foods’ strategy is not to grow for the sake of growth. The point is to grow with purpose, in a way that serves its values and its people. “One of the things that I feel is really important is continuing to find the right sites that are good for customers, good for team members, and good for the community,” he explained, adding that his team has turned down great real estate deals because they ultimately weren’t suitable for all those stakeholders. “It's been really prudent for us to make sure that we continue to be as diligent as possible and continue to hold those high standards. We should only be taking the very best sites.”

Growing with Purpose-Whole Foods


He noted that Whole Foods has always considered the environment to be one of its key stakeholders. That’s why sustainability is a driving focus in its operations and expansion, guiding everything from development and design decisions all the way to the company’s day-to-day operations. 

“We've been looking at ways to find win-win solutions where we can replace outdated equipment that isn't as energy efficient, and at the same time, create a better experience for our team members and our customers,” he said. “And quite frankly, using less energy is going to cost us less money as well. So our goal is to look at all of our existing stores and say, what can we do to help support the environment?”

How Will Retail Transform Over the Next Decade?

As the conversation wrapped up, Owens tossed Buechel a few questions on the more personal side of things. First up: what are his top three Whole Foods Products?

“The first is dried mangoes—they’re the best dried mangoes you’ll find in the marketplace,” Buchel answered. “The other two are dry lentils, one is green and one is red. For me, those are always staples.”

For Austin locals (and visitors), Buechel also recommended some of his favorite restaurants—Jeffrey’s, Uchiko, Emmer & Rye, Olamaie, Suerte, and Hestia—as well as his favorite live music venues: Stubb’s and the Moody Theater, where he enjoys catching Austin City Limits tapings. 

Finally, he turned towards the future, reflecting on what he thinks will be the greatest disruptor to retail and grocery over the next five to 10 years: changing customer behaviors as the shopping experience becomes increasingly digital.

Digital Future-Retail

“Digitally, we're gonna have so many different examples of how customers will be both influenced and supported as they do their shopping," he said. “We're gonna get to a point where wearables and things like that are gonna be a real thing in the food space.”

While it may be a little farther down the line, he also expects significant transformations in our very dietary habits. “I truly believe people will start to consume food based on their own personal biome,” he concluded. “There's gonna be a lot more education and understanding that folks are gonna have in this space, and it's gonna influence what people decide to buy and consume.”

Steve Manning

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Steve Manning is a journalist based in Idaho. When he's not writing, he can usually be found at the theater or taking his dog on a hike. If he could only go to one restaurant for the rest of his life, it would be Al's Place in San Francisco.

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