Whole Foods executives reportedly depart as Amazon says integration is ‘off to a great start’

The Whole Foods location in South Lake Union, just blocks from Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market is dealing with a rash departures of executive and top managers, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Citing recruiters helping the people find new jobs and former employees, WSJ reports more than a dozen executives and senior level managers in the bakery, produce, sustainability and local foods divisions have left Whole Foods since Amazon acquired the grocer last summer. Some were pushed out, others left, even though Amazon wanted them to stay.

Turnover like this can be common following big mergers, but WSJ reports that the “exodus” of executives and managers has caused concern among store employees and suppliers that the company could lose its identity as it integrates with Amazon.

Steve Kissel, an Amazon senior vice president who oversees the Whole Foods integration, and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey both issued rosy statements about the transition Thursday. Here’s Kessel’s thoughts:

At our core, we both share a commitment to a great customer experience. We are just months into our integration with Whole Foods Market and it’s going incredibly well. In this short period of time, we’ve partnered to bring several new benefits and services to customers — lower prices, fast delivery through Prime Now, a credit card with rewards, and more. We are off to a great start, and look forward to many years of future success together.

And Mackey:

As one of the most innovative companies in the world, Amazon was the ideal partner for Whole Foods Market. Both companies are pioneers with a shared passion for customer service and since day one, it has been a great partnership. Having acquired 23 companies in our 40-year history, we know what successful integration looks like and have maintained our distinctive culture while embracing many of Amazon’s leadership principles. Amazon shares our passion for industry-leading quality and service, and together there’s tremendous potential to make healthy food affordable and accessible to more people than ever before. While what we’ve accomplished in just six months is very exciting, it’s really just the beginning.

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion last year, it inherited a network of more than 470 U.S. stores. But it also gained a wealth of knowledge about the industry, an important factor in the deal, according to some experts, as Amazon looks to build a grocery empire. Losing that knowledge could create a setback for the retail giant.

WSJ notes that the transition to new ownership has been rocky in other ways. Some anonymous Whole Foods employees grumbled about Amazon’s penchant for secrecy and a lack of communication about how the two companies will integrate with each other.

In recent months, Amazon began making changes to Whole Foods stores and integrating the two companies. It slashed prices on some Whole Foods products and put others on its online marketplace. Amazon started rolling out a grocery delivery service in a few cities last month. It extended its Prime Rewards credit card to include extra cash back on Whole Foods purchases.

WSJ reports that Amazon is also eyeing some internal changes. One example is an inventory management system that frequently leaves Whole Foods stores short on product.