Retailers

Welcome to Whole Foods Market: Here’s a Mask

Investors told to 'take a seat' as Amazon details big spending plans for COVID relief
Whole Foods Market
Courtesy of Whole Foods Markets

Whole Foods Markets isn’t giving its shoppers any more excuses.

Concerned over the spread of the coronavirus and having already provided employees with personal protective equipment, the natural foods giant is now moving to issue disposable masks to shoppers at its stores.

The Austin, Texas-based retailer said it will begin offering free, disposable masks to all Whole Foods Market customers nationwide when they arrive to shop within the next week at its nearly 500 stores in 42 U.S. states, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The moves comes as Whole Foods parent Amazon said it anticipated spending billions on COVID-19-related expenses, including investments in personal protective equipment; enhanced cleaning of facilities; less efficient processes that better allow for effective social distancing; higher wages for hourly workers; and development of proprietary COVID-19 testing capabilities. Amazon this week detailed $800 million in such expenses in the first half of the year.

“If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a release detailing the online giant’s first-quarter financial results. “Under normal circumstances, in this coming [quarter], we’d expect to make some $4 billion or more in operating profit. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, and the best investment we can make is in the safety and well-being of our hundreds of thousands of employees,” Bezos added. “I’m confident that our long-term-oriented shareowners will understand and embrace our approach, and that in fact they would expect no less.”

In a blog post, Amazon said the mask initiative at Whole Foods followed an announcement earlier this week that it would provide more than 100 million masks to Amazon operations globally, including Whole Foods stores. “We have enough mask inventory to cover our entire operations and stores network, and we are requiring everyone working in our facilities to take and use them,” the company said.

In Amazon’s fiscal first quarter, which ended March 31, the company said sales at physical stores—almost entirely Whole Foods, and excluding digital sales fulfilled from them—increased by about 8% to $4.6 billion. Online retail sales increased by 25% to $36.6 billion.

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