Former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, Walter Robb, shares his journey of success and fulfillment

Nov 10, 2021

Whole Foods Market, the world’s leader in natural and organic foods, grew from 12 stores to over 500 under the leadership of Walter Robb. In this episode, Mason and Jess had the opportunity to connect with Walter about his eco-journey and profound retail success. Something we all struggle with is whether to choose balance over fulfillment or money over it all. Walter shares the path he chose to focus on and some new projects he’s really excited about right now.

Show Notes:

Whole Foods Market values. – https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values

Walter Robb’s advisor site – https://www.stonewallrobb.com/

Bright Seed (identifying plant molecules with AI) – https://brightseedbio.com/

Pretty ok transcript (it seemed to ignore Jess for unknown reasons):

Mason: All right. Well, we’ll come back to you. The most degree podcast today, we have Walter Robb needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce him anyway, grew up in whole foods and had a long and illustrious career with whole foods and Dean as co CEO. And since then has left. And I’m excited to hear about all the things that you’ve been up to since then, because I’m sure we’ve got a lot of.

Uh, really cool things coming out of the works. Um, but we’d love to just start talking about, uh, your story and, and, uh, uh, your start at whole foods and how you ended up

Walter: there. Okay. Well, thanks. Good to be with you guys today. And I’m here in a rainy day or sort of a rainy, like day in Austin, right. Um, which is a little unusual, but we’ll tell.

You know, you’re talking to a, basically a natural food guy who started in the mid to late seventies, kind of being drawn in by this idea. Remember that the modern food system started in world war II and, uh, that the, the birth of frozen food and processed food. And so when my generation came along, the idea was that we were going to revolutionize food and go back to whole food with a small.

Right. I’m my own store, which has started in 77. Yep. And, um, but it was really the reading Wendell Berry’s book on settling of America, Francis moral pay diet for a small planet. Uh, those sorts of books that got me just excited. And then in the family, we started making our own bread, which was an unusual thing, grinding our own flour.

And, and so this, the idea came after trying law school for a week farming for six months. And a couple other things I said, I’m going to start a natural food store. So I did so with a $10,000 loan from my stepfather who just gave it to me with no papers and I’ve spent three grand on inventory and then the rest and then pulled the store and opened it up called mountain marketplace, and then ran that for 10 years, sold it and moved back into the bay.

Where I started a second store, which was turned out to be the one I sold to John in 1991, which is store number 12 for whole foods. This is a pre-public. So we were just 12 stores at that point. And, um, to a truly, I think just, I was a life choice around 2008, do something that really, um, felt right and felt impactful and purposeful.

I knew. You know, sell elevators or something. Not that that’s not for somebody else, but for me it wasn’t. And then I think also that it just being really in, in feeling like you were doing something that mattered, but also something that just really felt right. And so we built the whole match fund industry kind of unfolded from that place to the present day.

And now, you know, you see where it is, which is pretty mainstream. This idea that food actually affects your health. Pretty widely accepted now. Right? Many more people are accepting it

Mason: nowadays. And that was long before organic certification. So at the time, how did you know that, you know, some food was going the wrong direction and that you want it to

Walter: go to.

Well, I think every generation puts two looks to put its mark on society and makes its changes. I think we’re seeing that now with the pivot from, um, from the boomers to the millennials and the a and the Z years. Um, but I think in our case it was the response or reaction or decision to go to whole foods from the highly processed foods in the frozen foods, which had grown out of.

Since the forties, I mean, prior to world war II, pretty much everyone grew their own food and ate their own food. And they had that sort of value system, victory gardens, not, not withstanding in world war II after world war two, it was all about moving to the suburbs and, you know, frozen food and modern supermarkets and, and all that sort of thing.

And so I think our generation came along and said, Hey, let’s go back. Let’s let’s do this thing called natural food, which is, and so that’s really what. I attempted to do as a generation, I think. And I think that’s now we’re at a, we’re at a different pivot point now with a new generation of consumers, we have, we have boomers, we have actors, we have only nose and we have Z, we have four generations in market, but the pivot has definitely been to the millennials and the Z years.

And who have. New mission, which is to build on kind of the foundation that whole foods is built to Esther in a new era of food and around food systems, which really need transformation. And why that’s so important is because food pretty much touches every aspect of human existence from climate to your personal health.

And so that’s why it’s a really increased key thing to transform. Uh, the work that we started in did it whole foods now needs to continue with a new generation of entrepreneurs like yourself. Mason.

Mason: Absolutely. And a funny point, chemical fertilizers weren’t even invented until.

Walter: Correct. That’s right. They actually were the war agents.

The, that they count the materials that were used in the, in the prosecution of world war two is we’re turning what were transformed into pesticides and fertilizers. That’s really what gave birth to modern production agriculture, which is what we see today. But what happened with our generation is a new system of natural, organic.

Uh, grew up alongside and we have now as two parallel systems of production. I mean the organic industry alone is, is close to $70 billion. But to your point, the first organic, the first days of the business, there wasn’t a, an organic Cliq see today that became, uh, as a result that we had the first.

Organic certification in California in 1990, the federal seal was approved in 2000. It took a number of years to actually do the rulemaking to create it. But somewhere in there, the fact that there was rules around what an organic seal stood for it and actually just the market took off. And so that’s where we’re now at 70 billion organic sale.

Which is pretty, pretty good considering the overall grocery industry in that states is somewhere south of 1 trillion. So maybe in the maybe 900 billion or something like that. Um, bringing transparency to consumers who didn’t know if they were eating vegetables that were grown organically or that had pesticides on them to help them grow.

Right that day. They are there. That the whole thing with the seal was actually to take a third-party verification and put a standard in place that said, if you buy this seal, you’re getting these standards, you’re getting this sort of guarantee that somebody said it’s been grown this way. I think that was it.

Wasn’t just the transparency. It was the verification. And it was the fact that government was standing behind it as an option for customers that really unlocked the market potential. Right. So how does whole foods go about setting their high quality standards? Well, it really began with the initial standard, which was no ad Tez, preservers, colors, nothing, anything in the four walls is not going to have those sorts of things.

And from there, it pretty much evolved to the point now where there’s a standard in each and every area of the store. That was done through a process over the years. Any company’s purpose continues to evolve any purpose reason for being as they can see more of the further they get down the road. And so there’s a full set of standards up on the website.

Now that really articulate the set of standards in each area, vegetables, food service, you know, Seafood and so forth that are, the standards really are specific to that individual thing. And the issues in seafood, which had to do with overfishing are different than the issues in meat, which had to do with the carbon intensity or the use of grass, their use of, uh, of, uh, plant-based to produce one pound of meat, which, you know, versus for the healthcare, which is what’s going on in your skin or in your body, the set of issues are slightly different.

So the standards just keep evolving and I think. This new generation, which includes you too guys. We’ll of course have to push those further. And that looks to me that be around both sustainability, whether it’s packaging, whether it’s EST, whether it’s your impact on the environment or really around wellness and health.

I mean, I think the younger generation really is saying, show me that this is healthier for me. That’s is better for me. This makes sense to do. And I think these standards will continue to evolve as more information becomes.

Mason: Yeah. And then I’m sure as I’m leading the organization and the last, you know, 10 or 20 years, there’s been a lot of, uh, call it, whether it’s compromise or, uh, you know, assaults on standards.

What has the been through that? Like how did you stay centered and how did you figure out where you wanted the company to be, and then negotiate that with the company?

Walter: Well, I mean, it’s business as a team sport. And we were definitely a team and whole foods, a team of five or 10 years. It was together before we added a couple more members.

But, uh, I think that it was, you know, Lincoln said best about leadership. It’s kind of a combination of a, you lead your constituents and you serve your constituents. And so I think in many cases you are saying. Uh, this is the vision. This is the hill we’re going to take as a leader. And then on the other hand, you’re also listening to the constituents, which are the customers and the team members sort of saying, this is where we think you need to go.

And I think we realized as we got going that there was just how much market room there was, how much possibilities, 10 years that we flew under the radar, really, before we burst on the scene in the nineties, when people began to really know who we were. Yeah, I think it’s a, you, you find that balance there.

I think the fact that we had a pretty clear north star around, uh, serving the highest quality, natural organic foods, uh, bringing the healthiest foods to the market, trying to do it with love and respect. We had a north star, they pretty much guided us and that gave us a lot of room to just keep going and we kept going and it just kept opening up and opening up and opening up.

And so it was a combination. There was times where we would say. For example, I, as of earth day in a certain year, we’re going to stop selling red rated fish. We’re going to, we’re just not going to support this. They’re not being sustainably fished. On the other hand, there was time say when the GMO issue hit, where the team members were just saying, Hey, this is out there.

You guys are straddling the fence. We expect more out of you. We expect you to take a position in. Or guidance as to what your, you know, we, we should stand for as a company or the customers would say, what, what do you guys think on this? So we ended up being somewhat of a standard bearer and people look to us, even though we had maybe 3% market share, we had much more mind share.

And I think people look to us for some sort of guidance on how to make their decisions. So I think, I think the growth path for us was a combination of both a leading and just kept pushing against the mission. We could see the opening, we could see the differentiation and we kept going forward. Building bigger stores.

And more locations and going quickly, uh, at the same time as really being, trying to be responsive to our team members and our customers who were, who were sensitive. And, and I remember in particular during the downturn in oh 7 0 8, when the economy crashed, we had big ideas that are going on and we were, I remember going in to walk for John and John said, well, we’re going to be bigger than Safeway.

And, um, we’re going to have more stores. Do you realize how fast we’re growing? I think healthy ambition, but what the, what the dad, the downturn revealed is that we had strayed to some extent from our real purpose in the marketplace, which is not to be the biggest, but it was to be the best. And the team members made it very clear to us during that time.

Because we did 360 morale surveys. We did twice a year. We did full cultural surveys. We did, it made a real effort to, in a state, touched in with the team members on what they were thinking and how they were feeling, because that was the secret sauce of whole foods. But in that situation, they really guided us back to kind of reclaiming who we were in the marketplace, which was, we’re not going to be the biggest.

We’re going to be the best supermarket, have the highest quality foods. Our role in the marketplace is to bring that level of quality up and to raise the issues around that, to race to the top, not some sort of race to the bottom. And I think I remember distinctly feeling like we were being guided by our team members too, to remember who we were, they were feeling we were out of sorts.

So I think the impetus comes from both directions and I think your successful leader blends them both.

Mason: Yeah. You also end up running around with a target on your back because if you’re setting the standards, then everyone both is looking to you for that leadership. And then I feel like he, you get a lot of criticism for that as well, going back to your path.

So you have one store and. You became a store team lead, and then it looks like you were immediately after regional precedent. Was that just John seeing values, alignment and such, or how did that come about? Yeah,

Walter: th th when the store, and then, uh, then the president of the nor Cal region, which is, we only had two regions at that time.

We had, we had the Southwest here in Austin and we had the, the Cal region. And then, um, after. Been asked to come and be the chief operating officer, our EDP of ops. I can’t remember which came first, but, you know, EVP of ops and chief operating officer. And then from there adding the president title co president title with AC and then from there to co CEO.

So it was, uh, once I came to Austin in that role, it was a progression from there, but, you know, over the, the entire company, which we grew. Two regions to 12 regions over that time. So at the time we sold Amazon and the summer of 17, we were north of 16 billion in sales. Yeah.

Mason: It’s incredible journey. You left shortly after Amazon purchased the company.

Walter: Actually I was on the board and, uh, after the acquisition, of course we were no longer a public company. So we, so the board dissolved in and that’s when I left at that time, which was September of 17. Okay. So had

Mason: stepped aside as cause he had

Walter: before that was at, uh, January of 17. So pretty,

Mason: pretty close around.

Talk a little bit about what happens right after you leave an organization that you’ve been with. Well, I

Walter: should ask you that question.

Jess: We can ask that, right?

Walter: I mean, there’s a lot of levels to answer that question. You’re talking about leaving an organization for me. Honestly, this was my life. There really was no separation between my work and my life.

I was doing exactly what I felt called to do. And. I gave it everything, all my heart and all my soul and all my sweat and all my spirit. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Um, it was the gift of a lifetime to, to be part of that group that did that work. And every day I’d get up and think about nothing else.

And so I would say. Yeah, from that I learned to kind of in life, you look for fulfillment, not really balance. I, I kind of threw bounced to the wind and the subjects. This is so, so great. And you could argue that other parts of my life, maybe I didn’t do them as well, but I did. So as a result, I think it was a pretty good hit when I, when I stepped out, because it wasn’t the people that still take my calls are still want to meet her.

And it was just. So much, I mean, it was wrapped up in that. And so it took a bit for me to really kind of adjust to, um, not, and the question really is what’s out there that snacks that’s that’s as fulfilling and the answers are, I don’t have another 30 years to do a runway like that. I’m just not your age.

I’m older. And so, I mean, I’ll be 68, this November, so I don’t have another 30 years. I may have another three years live, but I don’t have no 30 years to work at that pace. I mean, honestly, do you understand how fast we grew and how we went through? Two states to 44 states who have, was traveling around, you know, every week, new area as we were expanding and spending spending.

So you adjust by, um, you know, really recognizing, appreciating the, the gift of what the work was. And then also trying to find your way to something that where you can continue on, uh, with the same things that you believe in the values and put them to work. And for me, that. Trying to be a mentor and advisor to a younger leaders who were facing some of the same questions we did around, how do you grow a company with some sort of values or purpose, not just, you know, grow to grow.

And I really enjoy that including with you Mason, and the time together and talking about things as

Mason: an advisor and investor in CCS veggies.

Walter: Yeah. So, but I think it’s more. It was more just the time in terms of helping you face the challenges of markets that marketplace was presenting. And so I’ve, I’ve chosen to do it through investing and advising advising first for me, I would, I don’t really do it just to invest.

I do it more for the advisor and the relationship and something I’m interested in. And then also, I think I’m serving on some boards. So in a situation a couple of months in the kind of exec chair role where I’m sort of alongside, um, and that is the next best thing to actually running a company. Well, it turns out it takes a whole lot of work to run a company.

I mean, it just takes everything to do that. And so I’m not sure you know that, but I think there’s an adjustment and you recognize that there is a, you that’s apart from the role that you’re playing, you know, there’s more to you than just being a CEO or co CEO. Um, it’s, it’s a hard thing to see when you’re in it, but it’s easier.

You know, I think for any CEO to recognize that there there’s a person there that you’re, you’re not defined by the role that you’re in. And then you kind of got to go discover that afterwards and sort of see where you want to go with that for me. I’m a purpose-driven person, purpose driven leader. And I want to associate with things that have some sort of impact on the world.

And so that’s what I’ve been seeking and that’s what I’ve been working on. Being a mentor on different boards. Can you share with us some cool projects that you’re currently working on? Yeah, sure. So there’s a company, uh, one company called hungry, which is a very interesting digitally native chef centered community-based platform for catering.

And essentially what they do is if you think about a catering order, You go on the platform and you have access in each community. There’s one here in Austin. Local chefs who, who use the platform to present their different, uh, food options or cuisines available. So when you were sitting, if you’re running an office, say, and you want to order, you have a choice in, and you access a partnering with these different chefs who actually come and set up the food.

Hungry basically provides the platform, the connection, uh, and even the logistics, if you need it, you can imagine their time during COVID with offices, they pivoted into 80% of their business. Last year was in businesses. They weren’t even in before like, like actually live events or, you know, or they’d come or went to food logistics.

They end up serving a million meals a week in New York city using their logistics platform. So, um, the real, like really great entrepreneur named Jeff grass. It’s the CEO, but yeah, I think trying to, uh, You help him and think through and be there to support them and use connections and contacts to help them.

And they set up an office in east Austin. And so that’s an example of a company that’s doing some very interesting things, but is incorporating kind of the modern tools and platforms that are available, that weren’t there when we started out, uh, into their offer and is it’s got the values-based approach in terms of including the shops, um, as a business model that supports the chefs and the company.

So it’s inclusive and it’s also. Uh, diverse in terms of the food that’s available to you as a customer and you, you make the selection on which food you want, you can move around. So I think that’s kind of a good example. Another one is an appeal sciences, a young entrepreneurial James Rogers, who got to know and asked me if I would come in and I worked, started out working with him as an advisor, and then he asked me to join his board.

But essentially what he’s done is figured out a technology to use a material scientist, to take from food waste or parts of the. Uh, he takes the lipids out and then makes a powder, which is. Really liquefies to apply to fruits and vegetables, to extend their shelf life from two to six weeks. So it’s pretty amazing they’re using food to preserve.

So what I have observed is is this whole new generation of entrepreneurs that are doing just simply amazing things to build the new world of food that you know, whether it’s mushrooms, whether it’s algae, whether it’s cell-based meat, whether it’s cell-based oil for them, there’s an entrepreneur in Austin is doing cell-based.

Well, whether it’s Justin Mars at kettle and fire that starting a non-alcohol company called. I mean, there’s just this activity and realization that that’s a new time and food. It’s a new time. It’s a new generation, there’s new things happening. And, um, the entrepreneurs are stepping up to create these companies.

And so I’m unfortunate enough to be. In a position where people come and check in and ask and see. And so I have a, I have a good chance to look at all the ex

Mason: fine. Well, you mentioned being a 68, it looked like a spring chicken

Walter: water. You’re not sure what that looks like. What does that look like? Scrawny?

Mason: No spring chickens are fluffy and pretty. Okay. I had chickens growing up, so I know all about chickens. Do you have any kind of health habits or things that.

Walter: Well, I mean, I’m a whole foods guy. I mean, I started in the mid seventies. I’m a natural food guy by literally whole foods. I mean, I’m a natural, I started out in what was called the natural food industry before that it was called the health food industry because it started in the fifties, but that wasn’t really a term that stuck, but it’s still around, but it’s the natural food industry was kind of more conveying this idea of food without junk in it.

Um, or using the whole food wherever possible. Yeah, I am happiest eating a natural food diet, very simple, natural whole foods, diet plant-based diet. Um, At the core of it. And I think that was my values kind of extend from there. But my early experiences as an entrepreneur, when I had my own store for 10 years, the experiences I had there in the 10 years building and from the ground up that store have really informed my values.

And I think we’re. It helped to show up and shape the whole foods culture, um, as a result of those experiences. So, and is that store still around? It is this fourth owner, I think now my goodness, but it is still there. When was the last time you went back to it? I would spend five years now. No, it’s still there.

It’s a 1500 square feet, something like that. It started out at a thousand and then we added a little bit more. So in the county seat, we’ll have to go visit that. It’s a long way from here. Wow. We like California then.

Mason: Yeah. Um, I wanted to go back to a quote. I think you were saying you don’t live for happiness.

You live for, for foment.

Walter: What was that? I think you strive for fulfillment. Uh, not for balance. I think balance is a bit bounces, a bit of an illusion, this society that you can be a at business at that level and be in balance. Um, it’s thrown around a lot. I think it’s awful. It’s just kind of an illusion. I think more, what you want to do is recognize when you.

Like freeze. I recognize when you’re burned out and you stay, you stop and take a day. And for me, I would go to the beach, turn off my phone. I would just, that would fill my tank back up. Cause if your tank is not full up, you can’t walk with team members and get to them in the way that you want to, or the way that I want to.

I mean, I’m a. Yeah, I’m not a head leader. I’m a heart leader. And to give to people, you have to have your own tank full to be able to do that. And so, or if you have time with you anytime with your kids, then you just make that time. But this whole idea that you’re going to allocate it percentages or something.

Cause you’re always going to feel like you’re coming up short anyways. So I think if you’re really more concerned, something that really matters to you, that that’s going to rub off on people. They’re going to see that they’re going to remember that. And anyways, that’s kind of where I came to in that I do admit there maybe.

Other than whole foods and my kids, I may have left out some other areas of my life. But on the other hand, the richness of, of the journey was amazing.

Mason: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like at times of my life neglect more of things that you want, but yet you ended up really digging into particular areas. And my first company, green lane, you know, I just loved it so much and everything that we were doing.

And so I went to advisors. I think I’m spending too much time on my company. There should be, I should be doing other things and wine advisory here in town. Uh, but joy, Gus Swami, he’s, he’s kind of a guru in town. He’s like, are you enjoying what you’re doing? I was like, yeah, absolutely loving it. We’re helping change food systems.

He’s like, well, then don’t worry about balance. Or

Walter: you just have that. I think the operative word is fulfillment. You know, I think the, basically the key to a life are you finding your passion and pursuing. Working hard being kind to people and tell them the truth. Yeah.

Mason: Um, so you’ve have always been a road warrior.

Did COVID ground you for awhile or were you able to stay

Walter: well? Was, you know, I lived downtown and so, I mean, it was stunning when code first, I was the first one of the first people to get a COVID in Austin. I got it on March 10th, 2000. 20, I guess I got it. I think going through the Chicago airport actually, uh, and I was one of the first ones to get it here and, uh, I got it bad and I ended up three nights in the hospital too.

So, but I remember looking out at the downtown Austin, it was dead. I mean, like for the first three or four months, no one went outside really. I mean, do you remember that? I was just completely shut down, so no, I didn’t really travel for a year. And even now I, I, you know, I realized with the break that I, uh, I did so much.

I don’t know how to tell you how much travel I did that. I don’t really enjoy it in the same way that I used to. And it, you know, which city am I in now? I’m walking down the hotel hall. Where am I going? What am I doing? You get to the place where you’re doing so much of it and it was what was necessary.

But now I try to be more selective on, on that. And when do I really need to do it? And of course you can always fly zoom airlines, right? You can go around. But I think in the end, there are some things that need to be done face-to-face and then have to be done by having a personal relationship. So either you just need to sort out, maybe it’s the first and the last meeting, or I always felt as.

President chief operating officers. No way I can do that job. If I didn’t understand on the ground from the regional presence perspective, what the competition looked like, what they were doing. And who is their leaders are had to be there and spend time with them to be effective in my role. So I think it also depends on kind of what your, what your roles and responsibilities are, but there’s some travel necessary.

But I think, I think we all realize coming out of this, we can do less than be just fine. Yeah,

Mason: exactly. And did you come out of it with any Tiffany’s about what you wanted out of life and your pace or anything? Anything changed

Walter: from COVID. You know, it’s interesting. Cause I just hosted a, along with Sarah Isen, from a friend from CNBC, um, we hosted a dinner and Brent Montgomery from wheelhouse.

We hosted a dinner for 16 CEOs in New York city, maybe two months ago and was really around the zeitgeists of the times, which is kind of your question and what I heard and what I’ve experienced is one, a realization that we are made to be with one another. And when we don’t, when that’s not happening, it feels, it feels less than, you know, you feel like you’re missing the full promise and gift of humanity.

Second of all, I think it cracked us all a little open to be more tolerant and more appreciative of others, whether it’s the grocery store. Who’s who’s ringing you up or whether it’s the views of a younger generation, how they’re seeing things. I thought the CEO’s referenced the fact that they heard the generate the younger generation in their company more clearly than they’d heard it before in terms of what they needed with respect to time at home, different childcare, a desire for hybrid design work.

There was a kind of, there’s kind of an opening that’s been created around those sorts of things. I also think that it revealed very clearly disparities that have been inherent in the situation for a long time around, uh, education, race equity, other areas, food, food system, actually given that it’s 50% food service and 50% retail and near the Twain shall meet as we saw during the COVID.

So it opened up the opportunity to see a lot of the things a lot more clearly in terms of work that needs to be done and lays ahead for companies and for society. Uh, some of that’s playing out in DC right now, since we’re such a split country and we just can’t seem to get it together to sort of find a way forward it, which is what we need to do.

Yeah. I mean, I think the realizations are really one first. How much, I’m a people person and I, how much I treasure and appreciate being with people and how much that’s the core part of any business for me is those relationships that you build. I think second of all, is this idea that there’s more than one point of view than just years of CEO and that you’ve got to really realize how important it is in today’s world to really open yourself up, open the aperture up, to let those all in and, and, and filter them and think through them.

And honor them really in, in creating kind of the way forward, which is what you should do as a senior leader. Anyways, you should start making room for the younger leaders or making them feel safe to share their points of view. And I think third is, is recognizing once again that we are, those of us who are lucky enough to have been at this point, it realize there’s many others that are not, and, and that it, what sort of society we really want to have in this.

And, and, and what are we going to do about it, whether it’s climate and the impact there, or whether it’s. Food system, uh, in accessibility, in certain parts of the country, that the underserved areas, whether it’s any area that you want to pick, there’s work to be done to kind of create a more perfect union, which was of course what Lincoln said, right.

So we’ve got. Yeah. One of

Mason: the topics, mostly green that we’re trying to cover is personal sustainability in the, our journey to be more sustainable. I’m guessing your diet is about as sustainable as it gets. Are there any other areas of your life that you’re trying to work on to be a little bit more environmentally conscious?

Walter: The date is right at the center of it, because I think that does it does touch everything. And so besides feeling better, um, you feel great about the choices you’re making in terms of. Their footprint and their impact. There’s a website now. Hi brands.com. That will let you actually shop and see your carbon footprint from your purchases.

But that’s all coming in terms of information. Uh, you know, obviously exercise, I really enjoy walking town. Like, you know, you can do 10, 12 miles out there and put up a pretty good sweat and feel really good in this. Beautiful. So I really enjoy that. I tend to do a comp cause of my knee. A little bit long on the tooth.

Now I like to combine cardio and weights with, you know, with actors with, uh, those two combinations are really good for me, so I probably should do more meditation and those sorts of things. But, um, I haven’t really done that as much, maybe just quiet time. And I think in terms of, uh, I

Mason: had a meditative practice or

Walter: I had 20 years ago, but I have not picked the backup, you know, more just quiet time to sit, to look inside, but actual meditative practice, I’m not, I’m not.

Currently doing everything, but I have had, and I think, um, in terms of the planet overall, and there’s a tendency sometimes I think to think that you got, if you work out there on some big thing, and I think really if you stay, come from the inside out, start with yourself and work on that, work on those relationships, work on building more sustainability.

In your own community. I think that’s, that’s kind of, my path has been to try to contribute. So yesterday I taught a guest class at UT law school, you know, and I teach at the business school and I think, you know, where can you give back? Where can you help out? Where can you build a connection that is, it’s just as important to type part of the environment of what we need to build as well as, you know, obviously.

Car that you drive or the food that you buy or the equipment that you choose, or the companies that you support. Yeah.

Mason: That’s the perfect ad for most of the green.life, because we talk about health and wellness, being an incredibly crucial part of the environment. You have to have a healthy body. There’s a quote, you know, a person with his health has a thousand dreams, a person without it only has one dream.

And so it starts from within, and then it also reminded me of this quote that. The only you can’t change other people, the only way you can help change the world is contribute, change to the world and then, you know, help people.

Walter: Yeah, it does remind me of, I made this a good time to bring up. I do think that we are at a major inflection point here where our understanding of health and wellness has been up to this point.

Really? You know, we’ll add this to our smoothie or we’ll add this, but really there’s this sort of view that you go a certain number of years and then you start to decline and you may be going to home and. You know, and then you kind of go downhill and out. Right. And I think what you see now is people really pivoting, particularly younger people to a home.

Looking at the world through the lens of health and wellness, which is to say, no, I don’t want that. I want to really optimize my life. I want to optimize my time. I want to in every way. And so this pivot of seeing, um, health and wellness, not as the absence of disease, but the presence of vitality is going to take shape in terms of, uh, the next three to five years as food and medicine joined together.

And people realize just how powerful food is as a healing agent to reverse disease very quickly. As people realize that they are going to want to make choices that, um, whether it’s exercise choices or whatever choices they make. Cause there are sort of five parts of lifestyle medicine, right? It doesn’t include sleep, uh, meditation, spiritual, physical, et cetera, et cetera.

All those five components of, of a healthy lifestyle have to be touched. But I think this fundamental underlying thing is this pivot to a, kind of a new lens of health and wellness that people can look at their life through. In a way that’s very different than the generation before. Yeah. And

Mason: there’s a book called lifespan that, uh, puts forth the point that, you know, we talk about health being nurturing our bodies and avoiding stress.

But when you look at the biology of our bodies, you have to actually stress out your body as well. Uh, one of the things that we’ve kind of taken to is cold plunges. Have you ever done a

Walter: cold plate? I have done those and that does shock your body, but one of the other ones out there is intermittent fasting.

This idea that actually, if you will, that are to understanding epigenetics. Now, actually, if you do stress your body in that way, It kicks in the longevity genes. So, um, that’s the sort of thinking behind, you know, restricted calorie diets or intermittent fasting is actually kicks in your body’s natural reaction to

Mason: Fiji and all the things that help clean out the body.

So do you practice intermittent fasting? I

Walter: do. I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m a poster child for that, but I would say that I have. A lot more. I’m a very careful eater. And number, second of all, I eat, I eat a lot less, so I’m fine with, you know, before I had to play it, I would just eat it now. I’m fine. If it’s halfway.

Try not to waste food, but if, if I’m finished, I’ll just push it aside, you know? Yeah. Right. Because calorie restriction is also something that lifespan speaks about in their book too, beyond just intermittent fasting. Yeah. Well it, a calorie restriction sounds like, you know, technical or something saying.

You can eat last, you can, when you’re full or close to being full, you can just stop. You don’t have to finish the plate. You don’t have to do that stuff. Right. And so calorie restriction implies server that you’re going to go on some sort of penalty box. And it isn’t really a penalty box actually, because as you make that adjustment, you start to feel better and better.

And, and you just realize that that’s just part of the discipline of, uh, of living a healthy life. And it feels good. Yeah.

Mason: And really separating nutrition from calories, I think is that’s right. Calorie restriction. You do, you should eat more nutritious food if you’re going to restrict your calories. But at the end of the day, we don’t need that many calories.

What our bodies are hungry for is nutrition. Most

Walter: of the time. Exactly. Right. Yeah, exactly. Right.

Mason: And the whole foods provides that

Walter: whole foods. I mean, whole foods with a small w again or. You realize we really dis we discovered less than 1% of the, of, of the compounds that are in the plant kingdom. And so we really have, uh, we, we, you know, we, while there’s a lot of folks fussing around with the DNA and trying to create new things, there’s just so much richness in what’s already exists that, and there are companies that are now in, on unpacking that and discovering that and bringing it forward.

We have a whole future where, you know, food is going to be linked directly to the certain disease states and the foods that have the compounds that work against that they’re going to be linked in. The medicine is going to be practiced in that way through the use of food. So it’s, it’s pretty remarkable.

Nature is pretty remarkable and it’s not just the compounds. It’s also the adjacencies or the things that are around it that complimented it’s such a complex system as they’re discovering on a cellular level or on a microbiome. All these things are going to come forward. And we realize which, which kind of goes back to the basis of the whole food movement, which is the, uh, appreciation for reverence, for nature and, and the magic of nature.

And so I think, you know, what we tried to do at whole foods market was always to kind of work with nature and work with what you can learn from the natural world, as opposed to decide to do that, kind of came out of world war II. That man needs to dominate nature. Right. That’s somehow that that’s a better outcome.

So I am I’m on the camp. Reverence for nature. And, um, I think that the science and technology tools that are coming now will help. You know, that there’s so much there that we can use to do so much. Good. I think that will be a really exciting,

Mason: yeah. Depending on a point that you mentioned, not only do we only know 1% of the plant kingdom, but the actual, actually the nutrition and the foods that we eat.

We’ve only identified, and this is probably 10 years ago, but I saw something that we’d only identified 40 to 50 actual useful compounds in the apple. And there was like, well, how many do you think they are? There’s like probably thousands.

Walter: Yeah. I was going to ask to go back to that stat. We’ve only discovered 1%.

Mason: That’s incredible. There’s

Walter: less than 1%. There’s a company called bright, see, check it out. Bright seed, uh, for your listeners. It’s a, they’ve created a forgery, which is their discovery platform. Essentially set up to do the work around building a data library of all these compounds that they’re discovering and food.

There’s another interesting company called Kings. Um, which is essentially studied fermented foods, which has been around as long as humans have been a, it was a natural way of preserving food and they’ve gone and credit data library of all the microbes that are in fermented foods like kimchi or anything like that.

And they’ve started to connect the dots between these microbes and complimentary microbes and how they can. Improved flavor products or help it products in it. So there’s, it’s all coming

Mason: and it makes them nutrients bioavailable. When they’re fermented, there’s lots of nutrients that ended up locked up, but once they’re in the microbe and they get into our gut, then they become available to it’s

Walter: really amazing.

This is all part of new food. So, you know, it’s not for this grocer to do because this. Done as time and the apron, but there’s going to be a new grocer. Who’s going to be, you know, bringing these things forward and new entrepreneurs that are going to create the companies to do it. And I’m excited to see the, how retailing, which is of course now multichannel, we’ll be able to communicate and share these things and how that point of view will develop.

And even at whole foods, they’re going to have to keep pushing their standards to sort of help the customer, make their way through these different set of choices that are going to become available and help them understand what. Well, I’d take and take a stand on it. And another words this, yes, this no, or here’s a boundary or something that you might want to think of that people look to whole foods to kind of provide some guidance on that because it’s pretty confusing out there.

I mean, there’s 35 or six diets. Which one are you supposed to do? Which one is right? I mean, the answer of course is, you know, your body will tell you what’s right for you, but there’s a lot of confusion out there about it. And there isn’t real clear linkage between medicine. Your healthcare on food right now.

There’s not, there’s no real true linkage that anyone could point to there’s nutraceuticals and functional foods, but it’s, there’s a big gap there that needs to be closed and will be closed. And the next period of time, right? Two companies that

Mason: were excited about when, uh, Maryfield your friend, Joe Dickson, is creating an app to help people decide like which

Walter: foods are good.

Joe’s a great guy, super guy. So that should be

Mason: a great app. And then. There’s another one called Finch that we’re collaborating with that does sustainability reviews, but science backed for most of it’s non-food, but personal care items and things that you get in the store, consumer goods. So we’re excited for companies like this to come on and help people understand.

What to do and what not to do because the people trying to make money out there. All there’s a lot of disinformation and misinformation

Walter: as there’s a lot of information and people, I mean the general consumers can just confused. I mean, w what should I eat? You know, the old Seinfeld joke, right. You know?

Well, you look pretty good. What do you eat? I think I’ll eat that.

Mason: Well. It sounds like you still live a very tight schedule. We’re very excited and happy and honored that you came on the show with us. Any, anything else, any other cool tidbits or something that you’re what like what’s got you excited right now in life.

Walter: Yeah. Well spending time with YouTube guys and seeing what you’re up to is cool. And I appreciate the invite and to be part of your series here and Mason, all your, uh, As he sees and everything and the things we’ve got to share there. But look, I think the, the future at there’s always, you’re either half full or half empty sort of person.

Right. I think you’re one way or the other. I’m always, I’m always excited to meet new people, have new experiences, put connect new dots. And it seems like if you’re open that. Those things start to happen. They just, they just keep happening. And I think that, um, I don’t know exactly what lies ahead other than my grandkids, which are fantastic.

I got six of them now, but, uh, you know, I remain incredibly, um, one of my lifelong mono, my values is lifelong learning and, uh, um, I think, you know, staying open and humble to realizing that there’s so much more to learn. And so many more people you can meet. Some of them are things to government that has got me.

I mean, I get up, I get decided because every day I make a new connection or a new daughter, a new thing, and I think that’s what make life so interesting, you know?