For years, Amazon has been the specter looming over retail, as once-dominant department stores and specialty chains fell on harder and harder times. But up until now, the e-commerce titan has managed to irrevocably alter the industry without making much of a dent in retail’s biggest moneymaker of all—the $800 billion grocery business.
That changed on June 16 when Amazon announced its intention to acquire Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket chain that played a pivotal role in taking organic and natural foods mainstream. Whole Foods itself may have been under duress, pressured by an activist investor and softening sales, but the healthy-food movement and the meticulously curated store experience that it pioneered is alive and well. “Amazon is placing its bet on the future of the food industry,” says Errol Schweizer, a former Whole Foods executive who is now an industry adviser, “and they see Whole Foods as the leadership.”