AUSTIN, Texas (October 11, 2005) Whole Foods Market, the world's leading natural and organic foods supermarket, invites customers to shop at any of its 177 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, October 25th, when five percent of total company sales will go directly to entrepreneurial opportunities for the poor through the newly-created Whole Planet Foundation. As an independent, non-profit organization with its own board of directors, the Foundation is dedicated to fighting poverty in developing countries where Whole Foods Market trades by funding collateral-free micro-loans to poor women to begin their own businesses.

  “Community involvement has been part of Whole Foods Market's mission since our first store opened 25 years ago. As we've done business around the world, we have increasingly felt the responsibility to help those communities where we're trading,” said John Mackey, chairman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Whole Foods Market. “Micro-loans are about empowering people to take responsibility for their own lives, to create small businesses and become successful entrepreneurs so that they can lift themselves out of poverty through their own efforts. It's a very direct way out of poverty, and it has a wonderful track record.”

Micro-loans are based on the principle that the poor have skills that remain under-utilized for lack of available credit. Instead of handing out money as charity, the micro-loan system teaches the value of money by enabling borrowers to make money through their own entrepreneurial efforts. In addition, the money that is repaid can then be loaned out again to others, creating a self-sustaining cycle that will eventually lift the community out of poverty.

The primary focus of the Whole Planet Foundation is to improve the economic well-being of the poor in developing countries by assisting entrepreneurship and self-employment through income-generating micro-enterprises via access to capital through micro-loans.

The Foundation will be led by Philip Sansone who has more than 30 years of experience managing business and community development teams in various parts of the world, including Latin America, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia. Sansone has a diverse background, having worked with rural cooperatives and agribusiness and community development in developing countries through programs with the Peace Corps, U.S.A.I.D., and the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, as well as having founded one of the largest independent bookstores in the country.

“Whole Planet Foundation micro-loans will offer a direct way for these women to pull themselves and their families out of poverty, and I feel honored to be working to make a real difference in their lives,” said Sansone. “This program is going to start one person at a time, and it's going to spread from there until thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people will be helped through these micro-loans.”

The Whole Planet Foundation is partnering with the Grameen Bank through the Grameen Trust, a non-profit organization based in Bangladesh that has more than 20 years of success administering micro-loans around the world. Loan repayment, including interest, is made easy by requiring tiny, typically weekly, installments. Repaid principal and interest returns to the borrower's local program to fund additional loans. Grameen's loan recovery rate has been 99 percent, and more than 50 percent of the families of Grameen borrowers have crossed the poverty line.

“Women will be the primary recipients of these micro-loans because they are the most economically and socially marginalized; yet, they have the greatest impact on their communities when given access to credit with which they can start small businesses,” said Margaret Wittenberg, vice-president of communications and quality standards and Foundation board member. “Giving women these small loans empowers them to use their creativity to change their own lives. It's a system that is very consistent with Whole Foods Market's internal philosophy of empowerment.”

A loan as small as $100 or even less can make a huge difference. For example, one borrower might use their loan to invest in a sewing machine to make clothing to sell, and another might buy a goat to begin a milk and cheese production business.

On its global Five Percent Day on October 25th, Whole Foods Market hopes to raise more than $500,000 in initial funding for collateral-free micro-loans that will be given to poor women in Costa Rica, where the company purchases bananas and pineapples and Guatemala, where the company buys coffee. These Central American countries are the first of many communities that will benefit from the Whole Planet Foundation program.

“Whole Foods Market will continue to support our local communities, but we feel as though, with the scale and scope we now have, our definition of community has grown,” said Mackey. “We have a responsibility to all of our stakeholder groups, and the global community is included in those groups.”

The Whole Planet Foundation is the second Foundation Whole Foods Market has helped create this year. The Animal Compassion Foundation was kicked off in January with a mission to provide education and research services to assist and inspire ranchers and meat producers around the world to achieve a higher standard of animal welfare excellence while still maintaining economic viability.In January of this year, Whole Foods Market shoppers helped raise $550,000 for initial seed money for the Animal Compassion Foundation.