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What you won’t find on the shelves, however, are the most important items in the store: the business principles by which it operates. Whole Foods Market, Inc. is the largest natural-foods grocer in the United States. It is also one of the business world’s most radical experiments in democratic capitalism. Plenty of companies talk the talk of empowerment, autonomy, and teamwork. This company has spent 16 years turning those (often empty) slogans into a powerful - and highly profitable - business model.

It’s a strategy that’s conquering new markets and clobbering the competition. Over the last few years, Whole Foods has been on a mission of rapid-fire growth. It opened its first store in 1980. As recently as 1991, it had barely a dozen stores in three states. Today it has the clout of a nationwide chain: 43 stores in ten states from California to New England, revenues of $500 million, net profits double the industry average, publicly traded shares, a goal of 100 stores and billion-dollar revenues by the end of the decade.