John Mackey, the longstanding CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods Market, has officially stepped down from his position at the grocery giant this month. Mackey helped build Whole Foods into a multinational enterprise for more than 40 years, and now, the former executive is setting his sights on a more sustainable venture. Called Healthy America, this wellness-centric start-up is expected to operate a chain of plant-based restaurants and wellness systems.

In August, Mackey was listed as one of the new brand's partners along with former Whole Foods executives Betsy Foster and Walter Robb. A job posting for Healthy America described the company as "an evidence-based lifestyle company, leading the convergence of culinary, healthcare, and wellness." The first location is slated to open in Southern California, according to Vegconomist.

"In our medical and wellness centers, we take a holistic approach to health and leverage the best of western and eastern medicine, alongside wellness, educational and fitness, and spa services to offer a best-in-class solution," the listing stated. "[Healthy America's] mission is to establish a new model of care which heals the whole person by focusing on prevention & reversal of disease through evidence-based healthcare utilizing nutrition and lifestyle, and aspires to elevate each individual's health to the most optimized state possible."

Last year, Mackey addressed the company and employees in an open letter announcing his resignation. The CEO gave the company a 12-month notice with a final date of September 1, 2022. To transition out of the company, Mackey helped prepare Jason Buechel, the Chief Operating Officer, to succeed him as CEO.

“Many people can go their entire lives without ever discovering their higher purpose, but I was lucky enough to discover mine back in 1976 when I was living in a vegetarian co-op named Prana House in Austin – two years before we first opened Safer Way [which became Whole Foods],” he wrote at the time. "I am very proud of the role we’ve played in advancing How food is grown, produced, and sourced matters, and fulfilling our higher purpose to nourish people and the planet is what makes Whole Foods so much more than just a grocery store.

Despite Eating Plant-Based, Mackey Criticizes Meat Alternatives

Mackey's latest business decision reflects the ex-CEO's dietary preferences. During an interview with Joe Rogan, the Whole Foods founder revealed that he is 100 percent plant-based. He claimed that he went vegetarian in his twenties before briefly introducing fish to his diet. But by 2003, Mackey fully adopted a plant-based diet for ethical reasons. He also noted that a whole-food plant-based diet can help reverse heart disease.

However, Mackey has historically derided plant-based meat alternatives from brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. The entrepreneur claims that these products present a serious health risk due to their highly processed ingredient and recipes. Despite being unhealthier than whole food plant-based, research indicates that plant-based meat products contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients.

"Our product is substantially better for the consumer than what it replaces.” Former Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown responded at the time. “What it replaces is a burger made from a cow, not a kale salad. So, if you’re saying this is not like the ultimate ‘superfood,’ you’re right. But it’s intended to be a product that is healthier for the consumer than a burger made from a cow [and] better for the planet than a burger made from a cow. And for many consumers, more delicious.”

Whole Foods Fueling a Plant-Based Future

Whole Food Market published its first plant-based trend report last spring after the Hartman Group found that 48 percent of consumers search for plant-based products when they go to the store. The report found that five product types will dominate the vegan market including plant-based seafood, gourmet cheese, vegan barbecue, plant-based children’s food, and dairy-free dips.

Last October, Whole Foods partnered with Lightlife to launch a vegan grilled chicken unlike anything on the market. The plant-based, whole-muscle chicken is included in several dishes in Whole Foods’ prepared foods sections, meaning hot bars, cold salad bars, and grab-and-go meals.

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How to Get Enough Iron When You’re Following a Plant-Based Diet

You may think iron is synonymous with meat, and while animal protein certainly has it, that doesn’t mean you can’t get enough iron if you eat a mainly plant-based diet. In fact, you can, if you know the right foods to choose and how to pair them. The daily recommendation from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for iron intake is 18 milligrams (mg), but not all iron sources are created equal. Here’s what plant-based eaters need to know about iron and which iron-rich foods are best to help reap the benefits.