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Three weeks from today the Southeast Produce Council 2018 Southern Exposure Expo and Tradeshow will be underway in Tampa, FL, with some 2500 attendees there to find out about the latest and greatest goings on in the Southeastern produce industry.

Southern Exposure is legendary for networking and educational opportunities, Attendees have also come to expect a big-time bang from the annual keynote speaker, and this year will not disappoint.

This year’s keynote comes straight from the headlines, with Whole Foods founder John Mackey on hand to talk about how the face of retail is changing in the wake of Amazon’s blockbuster acquisition of Whole Foods last June — and what consumers will be looking for when they make food purchases.

As our Countdown to Southern Exposure continues, we take a look at the history of Whole Foods as it transformed from a small Texas grocer founded in 1978 to an international $14 billion Fortune 500 powerhouse with more than 400 stores and 87,000 team members in three countries.

While devoting his entire career to providing shoppers with high quality natural and organic foods, Mackey has also focused on building a more conscious way of doing business. He led the company through more than 20 acquisitions, took Whole Foods Market public in 1992 and plans to grow to the company to 1,200 stores with Amazon at his back.

For 18 consecutive years, Fortune magazine has included Whole Foods Market on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. The company was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health Magazine, the top retailer for seafood sustainability by Greenpeace and one of “America’s 25 Most Inspiring Companies” by Forbes. Fortune also ranked Whole Foods Market first in the food and drug store industry and No. 20 overall for the magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” list.

Most recently, Mackey has focused on returning to the company’s roots around healthy eating and lifestyle choices. A staunch advocate of healthy eating education, he laid the foundation for health and wellness programs for team members and customers.

Out of his respect for equity among Team Members, Mackey implemented a salary cap for all executives. He cut his own salary to $1 annually in 2006, and forgoes stock options and bonuses. He continues to work for Whole Foods Market out of a passion to see the business realize the potential for deeper purpose, for the joy of leading a great company, and to answer the call to service he feels in his heart.

CNN’s Alison Kosic

Alison Kosik, a Business and General Assignments Correspondent for CNN, will serve as moderator during the keynote address. For a decade, Kosik has been reporting from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, providing live, daily reports. She also regularly fills in as a co-anchor on CNN’s morning show, “Early Start” and CNN International’s daily business show, “World Business Today.” Kosik earned a Fellow from the Scripps Howard New Media Fellowship from Columbia University in 2001. She also received a 1999 Florida AP Award for Best Spot News and was a 1993 Fellow from the International Radio and Television Society. Kosik received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science from The American University in Washington, DC.

The original Whole Foods was just 10,500 square feet and had only 19 employees. Now that it’s owned by Amazon, a new chapter is about to begin. Plenty has been said about what might change for the chain now, but here’s a timeline of key moments in the history of Whole Foods:

In 1978, John Mackey opened Safer Way Natural Foods in Austin, TX, the predecessor to Whole Foods.

In 1978, John Mackey opened Safer Way Natural Foods in Austin, Texas.

By 1980, Safer Way merged with another local natural food store, Clarksville Natural Grocery, to open the first Whole Foods Market. This original store was destroyed in a flood in 1981, but the community rallied around it and it was closed just 28 days.

By 1980, it had merged with another local natural food store, Clarksville Natural Grocery, to open the first Whole Foods Market. This original store was destroyed in a flood in 1981, but the community rallied around it, and it ended up only being out of business for 28 days.

Much of Whole Foods’ growth was through mergers and acquisitions. The company entered new markets by buying local chains and rebranding as Whole Foods. By 1984, Whole Foods had expanded to nearby Houston and had 600 employees. In 1988, the chain bought the Whole Food Company in New Orleans for its first expansion outside of Texas.

Much of Whole Foods' growth was through mergers and acquisitions. It frequently moved into new markets by buying a local chain and converting it into a Whole Foods. By 1984, Whole Foods had expanded to nearby Houston and had 600 employees. In 1988, the chain bought the Whole Food Company in New Orleans for its first expansion outside of Texas.

On January 23 1992, Whole Foods went public at a price of $2.125 per share. At the time, the chain had 12 stores across Texas, California, North Carolina and Louisiana. That same year, Whole Foods bought Bread and Circus, bringing the chain to the Northeast.

In 1997, Whole Foods revenue passed the $1 billion in yearly revenue mark with 70 stores in 16 states.

In 1997, Whole Foods also launched its 365 Everyday Value private label brand to fight its “Whole Paycheck” image.

In 2002, workers at a Madison, Wisconsin, store voted to unionize, but it was never certified. Mackey told The New York Times he is anti-union and ignored workers’ concerns, which led to the vote. It’s really never come up again.

Also in 2002, Whole Foods expanded internationally for the first time with a store in Toronto.

Also in 2002, Whole Foods expanded internationally for the first time with a store in Toronto.

In 2004, Whole Foods built the largest supermarket in Manhattan with its Time Warner Center location. The store measures 58,000 square feet.

In 2004, Whole Foods built the largest supermarket in Manhattan with its Time Warner Center location. The store measures 58,000 square feet.

In 2005, the company moved into its current global headquarters in Austin. It covers a full block of the city and sits on top of the largest Whole Foods store in the world.

In 2005, the company moved into its current global headquarters in Austin. It covers a full block of the city and sits on top of the largest Whole Foods store in the world.

In 2007, Whole Foods crossed the pond to open its flagship store in London. It first came to the city after buying local chain Fresh & Wild. Investors were concerned at the time that the country’s grocery market was already a crowded space. Whole Foods currently has nine stores in the UK after a dramatic 40-store plan was scaled back.

In 2007, Whole Foods crossed the pond to open its flagship store in London. It first came to the city after buying local chain Fresh & Wild. Investors were concerned at the time that the country's grocery market was already a crowded space. Whole Foods currently has nine stores in the UK after a dramatic 40-store plan was scaled back.

In 2008, Whole Foods stumbled a bit, as did most of the nation. The stock fell 76% in one year, and Whole Foods sold a 17% stake to private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners LP. The firm later exited in 2011 to a profit of about $1 billion.

In 2013, Whole Foods became the first chain to label all foods made with GMOs.

By 2015, Whole Foods hit another hurdle — organic and natural food became more prevalent and cheaper as more and more competitors got into the game. Walmart became the largest seller of organic food in the country, and investors became worried Whole Foods might get left behind in a segment of the market they had created.

In 2016, Whole Foods opened a new concept store, 365 by Whole Foods. Stocked with primarily Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Brand, the stores are meant to be millennial-focused with a focus on value. The first store opened in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles.

In 2017, an activist hedge fund, Jana Partners, purchased a stake in the chain, shuffled the board, and pushed it to lower prices to better compete with more mainstream chains.

Just days later, it was announced that Amazon would buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.

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