Friday, February 23, 2024

John Mackey Changed the Way We Eat. Now, He’s Going to Change How We Heal.


Whole Foods Market’s founder John Mackey isn’t done with us just yet.

At first glance, the recently opened Love.Life restaurant looks like most any of its neighbors in the busy Culver City neighborhood of Los Angeles. The large, well-lit space boasts a range of usual suspects in Southern California’s dining scene: a plant-forward menu, trendy cocktails, smoothies, and desserts almost healthy enough to eat for breakfast.

But this is no ordinary restaurant. For its founder, John Mackey, it’s a trojan horse of sorts — a hopeful step toward helping Americans take meaningful charge of their health.

Mackey is a name familiar to many as the co-founder and former CEO of Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods sold to Amazon in 2017 and Mackey stayed on as CEO until last year. But Mackey, now 69, didn’t head for retirement after his departure. Instead, he started Healthy America LLC in 2020, bringing along Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods, and Betsy Foster, a former executive of the grocer, among others. Healthy America acquired Love.Life, a Miami-based whole foods-focused restaurant that Mackey aims to make much more.

Love.Life Culver City
Love.Life Culver City | Courtesy

“The restaurant is one of three elements of the Love.Life experience, which combines the power of nourishing food, holistic medical care, and precision wellness therapies to promote healing, health optimization, vitality, and community,” Mackey told Ethos via email.

Love.Life’s restaurant opened first, and the medical and wellness offerings that complement the restaurant will open in early 2024, also at Ivy Station in Culver City, Mackey says.

The platform’s expansion plans appear to mirror the growth of Whole Foods — bringing Love.Life to busy urban neighborhoods across the U.S. where it becomes a pillar of health for the community. The fully realized version of the project includes fitness studios, health counseling services, body treatments, events, and more.

The power of food

Not unlike his supermarket chain that helped consumers choose better products for their health and the health of the planet, Love.Life’s vision is the more intimate, logical next step. Mackey, a longtime vegan, says the platform was founded on the belief that food has the power to “nourish, heal, and optimize the body.”

“Our medical care team is rooted in lifestyle medicine, so the role of diet in health and longevity is a key focus for the company,” Mackey says.

Love.Life Wynwood Burger
Love.Life Wynwood Burger | Courtesy

The restaurant’s menu is co-developed by Executive Chef Brooks McCarty and nutrition experts to maximize the nutritional value of each meal. The plant-based menu eschews deep-frying and added oils, and, Mackey says, sugar and salt are used sparingly.

Love.Life builds on the original Whole Foods Market ethos that food in its purest state isn’t just healthier — it also tastes great. The restaurant has adopted Whole Foods Market’s standards, which prohibit the use of hydrogenated fats and 200-plus preservatives, flavors, colors, and other ingredients commonly found in processed foods. 

But you won’t notice the absence of these ingredients in the restaurant’s flavorful menu items, which include chili-roasted whole cauliflower, beet tartare, grain bowls, salads, curry, and a range of pizza options made with an in-house whole-wheat sourdough crust that undergoes a 48-hour-cold-fermentation process.

“A portion of the menu is also dedicated to food that helps optimize well-being, reduce inflammation and promote vitality,” Mackey says. These “Optimize” items are denoted with an icon on the menu and contain foods that have been clinically proven to help treat and reverse chronic health conditions as part of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

QR codes on the menu allow guests to see the full nutrition profile of any dish as well as the functional benefits and preparation methods — something useful for customers with special diets, allergies, or personal preferences.

“We want to create a different kind of plant-based restaurant that takes things a step further,” Michael Robertson, President of the Southern Pacific Region at Love.Life, said in a statement. “We’re focused on health and are fully transparent, so customers know exactly what they are ordering.”

From left, Craig Weller, a co-owner of Clarksville Natural Grocery, with Renee Lawson Hardy and John Mackey
From left, Craig Weller, a co-owner of Clarksville Natural Grocery, with Renee Lawson Hardy and John Mackey, the co-founders of Whole Foods, in an undated early photograph. | Courtesy Whole Foods

In March, Love.Life announced it had acquired Plant Based Telehealth, Inc. — a nationwide telemedicine service that focuses on the prevention and reversal of chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Love.Life says the telehealth service will add to its in-person medical offerings coming next year.

“Love.Life is about making lasting health and vitality achievable, and acquiring Plant Based TeleHealth accelerates our ability to help more people without geographic limitations,” Mackey said in a statement in March.

Healthcare’s changing landscape

Americans are more keen than ever to take control of their health in new ways, particularly following the covid pandemic. A study released in 2021 by leading pharmacy chain CVS found that 77 percent of people are paying more attention to their health than they were pre-pandemic, and half said the stay-at-home orders helped them to achieve personal health goals.

That study also found that even with conventional health insurance, consumers are shifting their care focus. Online resources such as telehealth increased from 12 percent in 2020 to 19 percent in 2021, and 19 percent of consumers said they were relying on community health centers more than pre-pandemic.

“These shifts toward personalized care have the potential to impact our health care system well past the pandemic, with many people taking a more engaged approach to their own health,” CVS Health President and CEO Karen S. Lynch, said in a statement.

Love.Life Juices
Love.Life Juices | Courtesy

Billionaire investor and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has helped with a novel approach intended to democratize modern medicine through his Cost Plus Drugs pharmacy service that fills and delivers prescriptions at a wholesale cost plus a 15 percent fixed margin. This can bring down the cost of prescriptions by hundreds of dollars or more.

Just last week, Cuban announced Cost Plus Drug would be getting a biosimilar version to Humira, the popular rheumatoid arthritis drug, which it will sell for less than $600. Humira’s list price is nearly $7,000 per carton.

For Mackey, though, helping consumers avoid those life-limiting diseases in the first place is the critical role Love.Life intends to fill.

“Lifestyle medicine is the foundation of our medical care offering, so we look at diet, movement, sleep, stress, social connection, and other aspects of an individual’s lifestyle when we evaluate their health,” Mackey says. “We aim to address the root cause of health challenges.”

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